AstraZeneca & Celonis Map out Digital Transformation

AstraZeneca's Raaj Joshi discusses sustainable innovation in pharmaceutical manufacturing & the company's digital transformation, undertaken with Celonis

Biopharmaceutical leader AstraZeneca is a global, science-led company which seeks to discover, develop and commercialise medicine, from oncology to immunology, cardiovascular to respiratory. The company was founded in 1999 and is based in Cambridge, UK, working across 100 countries. 

In its pharmaceutical manufacturing, AstraZeneca makes prescription medications and vaccines, such as the Oxford/AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine, establishing 25 manufacturing sites in 15 countries to supply it to people across the world.

Raaj Joshi is the Director of Financial Controls and Compliance Transformation at AstraZeneca. Joshi’s role requires him to simplify and automate financial and IT controls. Using a range of established and emerging technologies, methodologies and operating models, Joshi drives change and operational efficiency.

“Before joining AstraZeneca, I worked in consulting and across various industries, including telecoms and FMCG,” he says. “Coming to a company such as AstraZeneca was a huge attraction as it aligned with my own personal ethos in terms of helping others and making a positive, tangible impact on society. By definition, the industry is focused on saving lives and I wanted to play my own part in this ambition by bringing my expertise to AstraZeneca.”

When he joined, Joshi believed AstraZeneca could disrupt the status quo and reimagine financial compliance. Now, the company is doing this by embracing enterprise applications and emerging technologies, such as Process Mining. 

“I was tasked with driving transformation across financial controls and compliance,” Joshi explains. “This is done primarily through technology driven methods that can simplify and optimise how we adhere to industry regulations.”

In the crosshairs of healthcare and finance, Joshi is in the thick of industry regulations. 

AstraZeneca's digital transformation with Celonis

AstraZeneca is transforming the face of Internal Controls, using software development company Celonis. Founded in 2011, Celonis is headquartered in New York City and helps businesses create top business value for minimum waste. Its Process Intelligence platform uses the data from the systems and creates a living digital twin of that business's end-to-end processes. AstraZeneca sought out Celonis to safeguard its financial transactional systems. 

There’s a large number of manual controls that we need to operate to meet our regulatory obligations and our ambition was to automate as much of this as possible,” Joshi asserts. 

AstraZeneca decided to embark on a pilot programme with Celonis to optimise business processes, provide more accurate insights and drive better outcomes. With Celonis, AstraZeneca has revolutionised its financial controls compliance and implemented a programme designed to enable three lines of defence that safeguard the company against financial misstatement and fraud, across management, internal controls and auditors. 

“The solution has also had a positive impact on our employees, automating repetitive tasks that were previously time-consuming, removing a vast time burden,” Joshi adds. “Before using Celonis’ technology, certain controls we operated, such as our Manual Journals Bill, took up to 10 days' worth of preparation and then another three or four days to operate, however this entire process has now been completely automated.”

Advancing cancer treatment and sustainability in pharmaceutical manufacturing

AstraZeneca is at the forefront of cancer treatment. Its oncology department aims to help patients live longer and cancer-free. AstraZeneca CEO Pascal Soriot has drawn links between the global rise in cancer, with the pollution of our planet. 

“There has been a rise in chronic diseases linked to air pollution, and evidence suggests it is driving up cancer rates, too,” says Soriot. “Lung cancer and respiratory-related deaths linked to air pollution are up 160% over the past 30 years and it causes genetic mutations in some lung cancer-linked genes.”

For Soriot and the whole team at AstraZeneca, healthcare developments must be met with sustainable initiatives to support the environment – and this starts at home. 

To support the transition to clean energy, improvements are being made across AstraZeneca’s manufacturing sites, from upgrading energy efficiency in buildings to changing the way medicine is packaged. 

AstraZeneca also has some firm decarbonisation goals: 

  • By 2026, it will reduce scope 1 and 2 greenhouse gas emissions by 98% 
  • It will halve its absolute total emissions across the entire value chain by 2030
  • By 2045, AstraZeneca will be net zero. 

So far this year, AstraZeneca has acquired two companies. Icosavax, Inc., is a clinical-stage biopharmaceutical company based in Seattle, which develops high-potential vaccines using a protein virus-like particle platform. The second is Gracell Biotechnologies Inc., another clinical-stage biopharmaceutical company, which develops cell therapies for the treatment of cancer and autoimmune diseases and has operations in China and the US.

Besides this, AstraZeneca will continue to utilise Celonis in its internal financial controls and harness Celonis’ Process Mining capabilities. 

“While this will continue over the next 12 months, we’ll also be launching a new programme to do Process Mining across other business processes, beyond financial controls,” explains Joshi. “At AstraZeneca we’re excited about Celonis’ new AI capabilities which form the heart of the Celonis Process Intelligence Graph. We are piloting AI to augment several controls in the background. Generative AI has the potential to transform the pharmaceutical industry and we want to capitalise on its potential.”

At the end of 2023, AstraZeneca announced a US$247m partnership with startup Absci, which is focused on developing generative AI (Gen AI) antibody discovery technology. Together, the two companies will learn more about the potential of Gen AI as they work to clear the world of cancer. 

Despite already having achieved a lot in such a short space of time, Joshi feels that the company has only just scratched the surface.

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