Watch biotechnology or pharmaceutical news a bit or talk to executives at a company or two, and you’ll hear about many things related to bioprocessing 4.0. This concept—building a new world of bioprocessing by mixing automation, digital tools, and more—permeates today’s bioprocessing landscape. What can we learn from interest in this term, bioprocessing 4.0, at the start of 2020?

At Google trends, we can’t learn much. The five-year search history of the term “bioprocessing” looks like noise on an oscilloscope’s screen. Try tracking the search history of “bioprocessing 4.0,” and Google returns with: “Hmm, your search doesn’t have enough data to show here.” Where might the data be?

Some data related to bioprocessing 4.0 (Figure) emerges from a few PubMed searches. First, bioprocessing (white dots on blue) started to appear in publications a few decades ago, and it really took off in the late 1990s. By about 2005, the data curve launched into a steep climb. No doubt, interest in bioprocessing is on the rise.

Bioprocess Pubs Figure
Publications on PubMed related to bioprocessing 4.0 might be on the rise. [Mike May]

But what about bioprocessing 4.0? Searching that phrase tells us little, because PubMed returns nothing, and only one hit for “pharma 4.0” and just two for “industry 4.0.” So, let’s dig a little deeper.

As shown in the inset, articles are starting to show up for “bioprocessing AND automation” (orange dots on black) and “bioprocessing AND digital” (gray dots on black). Over some years, it’s a bit of a scatter on both searches, but it sure looks like there’s growing interest in research on automating bioprocessing. So far, the digital connection looks like more of a blip, but it’s probably more, because getting anywhere in bioprocessing 4.0 depends on all sorts of sensors and computation.

In five years, both of the searches related to bioprocessing 4.0 will probably look more like the search for bioprocessing in general. With some way to measure industrial research behind topics related to bioprocessing 4.0, such a data picture might already exist, but that’s a search for another day.

At the beginning of a new decade, an explosion of academic research into bioprocessing 4.0 and its mixture of pieces looms on the horizon. This field’s success depends on new ideas and new ways to turn bioprocessing into a futuristic industry. The transition has begun, but there’s a long way to go.

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