NH medical manufacturers adapt to changing conditions during pandemic

Companies learn to shift gears Covid-19 presents challenges and opportunities

Millipore SignFor companies like MilliporeSigma in Jaffrey and Microspec Corp. in Peterborough, whose products are manufactured for different sectors of the medical field, the onset of the coronavirus pandemic has greatly shifted the ways of doing business.

Karen Tiano, company spokesperson for MilliporeSigma, said the company has seen an increased demand for products that are used to produce vaccine candidates and therapeutic drugs related to Covid-19.

“Our products are being used by scientists to develop more than 45 vaccine candidates, more than 25 testing solutions and more than 20 monoclonal antibodies, plasma products and antivirals used to fight Covid-19,” Tiano said.

And with that comes challenges, so MilliporeSigma, Tiano said, has a Supply Chain & Distribution Task Force focused on ensuring products specifically supporting COVID-19 are prioritized.

“We have quickly had to navigate a transition to orders well above our ability to supply. Our teams are experienced with adapting to changing conditions, and have developed business continuity plans to serve the needs of our customers,” she said. “We have seen high demand and limited supply for products that are used in sample preparation, so we have brought on additional suppliers to try to address the increased demand.”

Early on, Microspec saw an immediate need for one of its products after Bellerophon Therapeutics Inc., a clinical-stage biotherapeutics company in New Jersey, was granted emergency expanded access from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, allowing its proprietary inhaled nitric oxide delivery system, INOpulse, to immediately be used for the treatment of COVID-19. Tim Steele, founder and owner of Microspec, said Bellerophon Therapeutics’ ability to ramp up production led to a secondary shipment of the three extrusions Microspec manufactures for the delivery system.

But a lot of what Microspec does is centered on extrusions for elective surgery, which have been way down since mid-March, with many hospitals cutting back or temporarily suspending those procedures. He said that three big customers put their orders on hold, but so far, “that hasn’t hurt us yet.”

In fact, Steele said that Microspec is 10% ahead of 2019, which was a record year for the Peterborough company.

“We’re looking to have a strong second half,” he said. “Things are looking good at Microspec.”

Workforce needs

It has been well documented that MilliporeSigma is in need of more employees, and Tiano said that the Jaffrey facility alone has 75 job openings. With the increase in demand, it only magnifies the importance of hiring.

“MilliporeSigma is hiring for a number of positions at the Jaffrey location, spanning from assembler and technical operator roles to process technicians, production, quality leadership and engineering roles as well as chemical and senior manufacturing operators and automation and robotics technicians,” Tiano said. “For these open roles, we are open to hiring outside our industry with training provided once the applicant joins our organization. Specific industry verticals we are targeting are food and beverage and travel and tourism, to name a few.”

Tiano said the company plans to fill at least an additional 120 positions, all of which they expect to ultimately turn into full-time roles to support its growth plans.

“This will involve a massive recruiting effort as we work to produce more products for our global customers,” she said. “Demand for our products has been fueled by our customers’ efforts in the development of Covid-19 treatments and vaccines.”

Steele said despite some large orders being put on hold, Microspec is actually looking to hire more employees as well. And with all the changes that came with operating in the coronavirus landscape, Steele said the company has found ways to be more efficient in production.

It happened, Steele said, through four employees opting to stay home due to Covid-19 concerns or issues with child care, which forced them to shift responsibilities, and it led to the elimination of a set of job titles.

“It’s made us a better company,” Steele said. But those positions that were eliminated didn’t lead to job loss, Steele said, but more of a reorganizing of how things get done.

“It’s not costing anyone their paycheck,” Steele said. “And we still have more positions to fill.”

Despite the need to increase production, Tiano said MilliporeSigma has been fortunate to have zero coronavirus cases at the Jaffrey facility.

“However, we continue to maintain very strict hygiene and vigilant measures in order to ensure a safe work environment,” she said.

Tiano said the company set its priorities early on to ensure the safety and well-being of employees and their families, as well as its role in public health, and business continuity.

“We implemented screening of employees, site de-densification and social distancing, staggered shifts, as well as added additional precautionary personal protective equipment and regimented vigorous cleaning schedules,” she said. “These safety measures are all ongoing at our Jaffrey facility.”

Steele said they developed separate teams for the first two production shifts to avoid people from mixing, which would allow Microspec to continue operating in the event anyone is diagnosed with coronavirus.

“People can’t walk from one work area to another like they were able to,” Steele said. “Its really gotten kind of complicated.”

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