Peering down the Pharma Pipeline

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This year, the Pittsburgh Conference on Analytical Chemistry and Applied Spectroscopy is excited to host a series of talks themed around the pharmaceutical industry. Topics will cover:

  • Biopharmaceuticals

​The technologies involved, how atomic structures are determined, and biocatalysis.

  • Analytical instruments in pharmaceutical analyses

An overview of mass spectrometry, Raman spectrometry, and high-performance liquid chromatography.

  • Lab automation and machine learning

The benefits and limitations of these innovations in the pharma industry.

  • The impact of COVID-19 on the pharmaceutical industry

How pharma has managed the demands of a pandemic, and the power of collaboration.


Biopharmaceuticals are drugs whose active substance is manufactured in or extracted from materials of biological origin for the purpose of treating or preventing disease. Although faced with several challenges, biopharmaceuticals have enormous potential. Accordingly, biopharma has become one of the largest and fastest developing sectors in the pharmaceutical industry. Their efficacy in treating previously untreatable diseases is, in part, a testament to the panoply of analytical instruments available at each step of the pipeline.

The shifting landscape of medicine and development of nucleotide-based therapeutics will be explored in a talk by AstraZeneca entitled: mRNA Therapeutics—Analytical and Bioanalytical Characterization. Furthermore, Professor Nakagawa of Osaka University will expound the current and future status of structural biology technologies used in drug discovery research with a focus on our most powerful tools; X-ray crystallography, cryo-electron microscopy, and nuclear magnetic resonance.

The utilization of biocatalysis to support drug development bolsters the power of this industry. The development of methods for quantification of total residual protein in the drug islatravir, synthesized by biocatalysis, will be discussed by speakers from Merck & Co., Inc.

Analytical Instruments in Pharmaceutical Analyses

Analytical chemistry has transformed the standards and scope of the pharmaceutical industry. Ubiquitous in the development of pharmaceuticals, analytical chemistry helps ensure quality, stability and safety. Mass spectrometry, Raman spectroscopy and HP-LC — three highly popular techniques — will be discussed in a series of talks.

Firstly, the importance of detecting the genotoxin, nitrosamine, and the development of nominal and high-resolution mass spectrometry will be presented by Thermo Fisher Scientific. Second, the growing applications of Raman spectroscopy will be expounded by Bristol Myers Squibb Co., highlighting the Raman journey from early development to the transferability of in-line and off-line methods at various stages of drug development. Finally, GlaxoSmithKline will outline their method development strategy (MDS) for guiding analysts through a more streamlined approach for screening the various HPLC parameters and evaluating results.

Lab Automation and Machine Learning

Lab automation can provide an efficient way of managing sections of laboratory workflow that are routine, repetitive and high volume. It can free-up time for skilled staff to attend higher-order tasks and reduce laboratory running costs, as well as improve productivity, reliability, and the safety of procedures.

Machine learning, a method using data analysis for automated analytical model building, is founded on the concept that algorithms can improve through experience, identify patterns and make decisions with minimal human intervention. When applied to the pharma industry, it can improve decision-making, optimize innovation, and increase research efficiency. It can also refine many aspects of the pharma industry — from screening drug compounds and predicting compound success rates to identifying candidates for clinical trials.

At Pittcon, Melodie Christensen from Merck & Co., Inc. will discuss data-science driven categorical parameter selection in the autonomous optimization of a stereoselective Suzuki coupling. In addition, speakers from GlaxoSmithKline will discuss automated product development for long acting injectable (LAI) formulations, and speakers from Merck & Co., Inc. will discuss recent efforts in overcoming the challenges of bottlenecking in synthetic route development — formed from time constraints in developing efficient and productive chromatographic methods before each processing step.

The Impact of COVID-19 on the Pharmaceutical Industry

During the COVID-19 pandemic, the scientific community was looked to for answers. In response, a vaccine was produced — shattering records in both expedience and mass collaboration. Among a host of feats, the rapid response was a testament to scientific progress, which can be attributed to the indispensable power of analytical chemistry.

The use of computer-aided drug design for the design, molecular docking and in silico analysis of analogues of chloroquine and hydroxychloroquine against a SARS-CoV-2 target will be discussed in a presentation by Naruka Yakubu from the University of Jos. This will be followed by a presentation from Shimadzu Scientific Instruments entitled: COVID-19 and the adaptation to changing analytical demands for the production of hand sanitizers and their ingredients.


With COVID-19, the vital importance of pharma in society has been reaffirmed. Pharma and biopharma, including the suite of analytical technologies at their disposal, are essential for tackling the challenges that lie ahead—namely, antimicrobial resistance, rising age-related diseases, and the threat of novel pathogens. The past year has witnessed a whirlwind of advancements, with the pharma industry undergoing rapid change. By attending Pittcon, you will be able to understand the latest developments in the pharma industry.

Last updated: Feb 25, 2021 at 6:03 AM


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