By Laura Sturza
Six students from the USC School of Pharmacy’s regulatory science program received a dose of the real world this summer as they toured two of the San Francisco Bay Area’s major pharmaceutical and medical device companies. The students saw firsthand the operations at Boehringer Ingelheim, one of the world’s leading manufacturers of biopharmaceuticals, and Stryker, one of the world’s leading medical technology companies, on July 22.
Students from the program often tour companies in Southern California, with the goal of gaining additional views of real-world operations. The department has also developed relationships with companies in many other regions. As part of a course on “Quality Control,” Frances Richmond, PhD, director of the program and professor of pharmacology and pharmaceutical sciences, wanted students to have a close look at the “richness of companies in the Bay Area.”
At the Boehringer Ingelheim plant, students toured a 300,000-square-foot facility with glass-encased production areas, which the company considers symbolic of its transparent style of producing biologics. Biologics include vaccines, tissues and gene therapies, among the most complex pharmaceutical products to produce. They differ from chemically produced products because they are made entirely from living materials, such as cells and tissues, and require the highest level of quality control standards in order to prevent contamination from harmful bacteria.
Student Kunjan Shah was surprised by the size of the machinery, as well as the level of quality controls that were performed both by people and by computers. “We’ve read about it, but now we have a better understanding [of the operations],” Shah said.
The Stryker facility produces equipment used in operating rooms including arthroscopes, the fiber-optic instruments that are surgically inserted to examine a joint’s interior. Stryker developed the first high-definition camera for surgical use during endoscopic procedures. The company also was the first to combine voice activation, infrared technology and high-definition video, allowing surgeons to control equipment by using not only their hands but also their voices.
At Stryker, Shah learned that many of the products are built by hand. Though she had thought that automation would be more effective in production, she also learned that building and repairing the products manually is more cost-effective and quicker than doing so through automation. “We saw such minute parts of the devices that we see in finished form at medical stores and hospitals,” Shah said.