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September 7, 2016

When talking about Digital Twin technology, what comes to your mind first? Dassault Systemes 3D solutions for real life objects? In-Silico models in pharmaceutical industries? The Virtual Liver Project in the healthcare industry? The concept of digital twins has been around for more than two decades, helping businesses virtually test how objects will behave in the real world. It is a 3D software model of a physical entity or an asset that is fed constantly with data from multiple sensors – initiated from the time of birth and updated regularly till its termination. What is interesting is that it is fast becoming a force to reckon with in the life sciences industry today. Digital human organs are being increasingly prototyped and are likely to become the norm in the near future.

Recently, Dassault released a digital twin of the heart, called The Living Heart. Built over a period of 24 months, it has been created by combining 208,561 tetrahedrons containing electrical and muscular properties. Through simulation and manipulation of these properties, a patients replica can be created and the consequences of each change in the composition of properties can be determined. Another example is of doctors at the Bioengineering Institute in Auckland, New Zealand who have created a virtual lung with 300-million alveoli that function just a like a flesh and blood one.

From a healthcare perspective, a digital twin of the human could be built organ by organ. If successful, it can enable comprehensive digital twin tracking of an individual from birth to death. This will pave the way for a highly personalized diagnostics model capable of predicting upcoming illnesses, recommending life style or dietary changes, and even calculating the age of death. This, in turn, can help find solutions to extend life through a healthier lifestyle or early intervention treatments. Capturing the complex behavior and responses of highly advanced organs such as a brain and the neural network will be crucial to creating a perfect human digital twin. In the meantime,
current advancements are already helping life sciences companies optimize outcomes.

According to Gartner analyst, Yefim V. Natis, creating a digital twin for each device in an IoT solution can help bridge the gap between the physical world and enterprise IT systems. This means the digital twin concept will create a huge impact in an increasingly connected world by helping businesses redefine non-traditional areas of a business. Lets look at three potential areas where digital twin technology can be used in the pharma industry.

Improve detection of side effects in lab animal testing

Animals such as mice, rats, dogs and donkeys are generally used as lab test subjects. Adopting digital twin technology can help create models of these test subjects for conducting a digital dissection. This will help you visually map the internal changes of the test subjects. In addition, there are times when certain severe side effects are not identifiable during animal testing. A digital twin of such animals could be tested and used to predict the possibility of serious side effects. The sensors help determine the symptoms for side effects. By co-relating the data points, you can identify potential side effects that are missed during the lab tests, to ensure a deeper analysis of such side effects.

Boost effective Identification of Medicinal Products (IDMP)

By leveraging soft sensors for detecting product information, changes from the multiple source system can be collated to identify product growth throughout its lifecycle. Externally focused sensors can be used to create information updates on deadlines. For example, you can combine alerts such as update your PIL for new black box warning by Sept 2016 with information collated from soft sensors to detect anomalies and issues in the real world. Similarly, when an insert is used to package a product, its digital twin can determine if it is the right version for the specified country of sale. If it is not, it can provide a warning or issue a stop shipment advisory tweet to the planner and logistics community.

Capture integrated artwork information across product lifecycle
Artwork information can be captured effectively by the digital twin – from the time of birth to the time of retirement of the final product. For example, the sensor data responsible for label verification can be used to determine the effect of the changes to the label in terms of label quality. Over a period of time, you can use this data to predict potential label quality verification issues and can recognize issues related to automated proof reads of the prototype artworks.

Bolster your business with digital twins
Companies are already adopting the digital technology to optimize machinery and improve human health. With connectivity peaking and machine intelligence advancing rapidly, the idea of building and analyzing digital twins to improve efficiencies, and testing outcomes is likely to strengthen further. Using digital twins to accelerate innovation cycles and establish a feedback loop for continuous improvement can help organizations develop new lines of business and add fresh revenue streams.

What are your thoughts? Do you see some other non-conventional areas where the concept of Digital Twin could be applied to enhance value? We would love to hear from you.

Yezhuvath Vinesh Balakrishnan works with the Tata Consultancy Services (TCS) Life Sciences unit, focusing on supply chain management. He has over 22 years of experience in supply chain management, manufacturing, process excellence, and IT management across the pharmaceutical and chemical industries. He combines process orientation and analytical abilities with an in-depth understanding of technology to develop IT solutions that drive productivity, efficiency, and governance in the life sciences supply chain and manufacturing domains. Vinesh is actively involved in numerous supply chain and outsourcing transformation initiatives, and has helped conceptualize and develop innovative solutions, and enabled process optimization. An alumni of Birla Institute of Technology and Science (BITS Pilani), Vinesh holds a graduate degree in Chemical Engineering and a postgraduate degree in Mathematics.


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