Q&A: Sharp’s Alison Dillon – European Pharmaceutical Manufacturer

As we close off this year at EPM, we look back at one of our standout interviews with Alison Dillon, Director of Marketing Communications and Strategy at Sharp. We sat down at CPHI Barcelona to look back at this year for Sharp, discuss the industry more broadly, and look ahead to the future. 

Jai: Sharp recently announced the acquisition of Berkshire Sterile Manufacturing. Can you explain why you decided to acquire the company?

Alison Dillon: BSM is a sterile fill-finish manufacturing site in Massachusetts, and we have had a partnership agreement with them since 2018. In 2020 it was decided to take a 25% stake in the business as they are a natural extension of the services that Sharp provides to pharma. BSM offer sterile fill-finish, specifically isolator-based filling, and they had been looking for a downstream partner with whom they could work. Where we pick up from them, we take delivery of naked vials or syringes that are now filled, we package them, assemble them, label them, and distribute them. We had an option based on the 2020 agreements to purchase the remaining 75% of the business and that is what we have now done, it is a very complementary business for our clients and we look forward to growing with them.

Jai: What advantages does acquiring BSM bring to Sharp and its customers?

Alison Dillon: BSM now has in Sharp, a natural downstream partner with a larger global reach with a network of distribution depots all over the world. We can manage clinical and commercial packaging labelling and distribution for them. We pick up where they leave off, which is the main benefit for their clients. So their clients, rather than having to find a separate packaging partner, will have a natural end-to-end offering under one roof. We have begun harmonising our processes and we are aiming to create a seamless experience for clients ultimately. From the Sharp point of view, we now have an upstream fill finish partner to offer our clients. We cover quite an integrated service offering, particularly on the clinical trial side, from formulation development right through to distribution either to a clinic or directly to patients.

We are always looking for complementary, adjacent, logical extensions for our existing capabilities. When we see that our clients have a need or gap, we will be having those conversations. That is part of the rationale for our investments and acquisitions. We are always looking at developing our capabilities to benefit our clients and their needs.

Jai: What are the biggest challenges you see across the industry now? How is Sharp working to overcome them?

Alison Dillon: Talent is still a tricky thing to find, on-board and retain. We are talking about highly specialised skillsets, which is always a challenge. Capacity is also a challenge to a degree. One of the things that attracted us to the BSM acquisition was that the smaller scale, specialist, rare orphan scale drug – that manufacturing capacity within the market is very tight, there is not enough of it around.

To improve talent, the industry could benefit from being open to discussing challenges, helping individuals to upskill and cross-skill. We need to look out for opportunities for highly skilled individuals to have the right pathway for them to develop. Retaining the right people is key and offering greater flexibility seems to be a big trend. Something we are aware of also, is the importance of connecting with the ‘why’ of the work we are doing, which allows people to feel greater value in what they do every day. Working in pharma, you work in life-saving medicine, and helping people see and feel the significance of that is really important.

Jai: What are the biggest industry trends/developments/challenges you see in the sterile manufacturing and packaging space?

Alison Dillon: Isolator based filling is becoming the high tide mark throughout this industry. I also know that through Annex 1 legislation coming throughout the EU (European Union), that is now the standard requirement for filling. What BSM have offered, despite being smaller-scaler, they have always worked in semi-automated or automated isolator-based filling which is the global gold standard.

Jai: Can you tell us what you are hoping to achieve at CPHI this year?

Alison Dillon: We have had a unique opportunity to meet all our clients, or as many as possible, we have been engaging with some really fascinating new people and businesses. We have also had the opportunity to introduce and talk about BSM, which is great. CPHI is the flagship industry event, we simply would not miss it. Personally, I always enjoy being able to see what our competitors are doing given that, despite the business competition, we are all engaged in helping develop the industry and help people as best we can.

Jai: Any 2024 predictions?

Alison Dillon: I have a particular bias, and it is not a trend but more of a paradigm shift, but we as an industry need to alter our thinking and our processes to become much more sustainable. It is changing how we work as a manufacturing organisation. We all need to plan for the circular economy, which is a huge challenge to the pharma industry.  When you see the growth projections for injectable devices alone in the coming years, based on demand for the new blockbuster drugs, we are going to have a serious issue to manage the design and disposal of all those injection devices while at the same time making our targets for carbon reductions in the supply chain.

Sharp has eight facilities globally, nine now with BSM, and last January of 2023 we hired our Global Sustainability Manager who is working across the board at Sharp to help shape our response to sustainable demands, such as influencing procurement of alternative materials, how we operate at our facilities in terms of energy and waste, CAPEX investments – every aspect of our business. We are future-proofing the way we do business so we can be here for the longer term and continue to be of help to patients who need it. As an organisation today, if you are not actively addressing reductions in energy consumption, waste management and GHG emissions reductions now, you will not be here for the long term, it is that simple.

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