Member Spotlight: Richard Overton - ISPE Founding Member
Ric Overton is one of ISPE’s Founding Members; he joined the organization when it was first established in 1980. We spoke with Ric to learn more about his experiences, memories, and the amazing 40 years he has spent as an ISPE Member.
Can you give me a brief summary of your involvement with ISPE?
Time flies when you are having fun. 40 years have come and gone, I have retired, but ISPE is still here serving the Pharma/Bio industry. My most vivid memories of ISPE relate to the early days when ISPE was just forming and I was asked to join. I never intended initially to be involved with the technical side of our startup company, Forest Laboratories. My degrees are in business management, not engineering, but as in many small programs, someone needed to wear the hat for engineering and facilities management, which at that time was underappreciated within the pharmaceutical industry. I took on that role, but I was a fish out of water. Knowing little about facilities beyond my experience as a janitor during college summer breaks, I needed help.
I dove into the FDA’s GMP requirements and found them confusing, as were most engineering- and facilities-related recommendations related to “adequacy” of systems, leaving what was “adequate” in the eye of the beholder (and the occasional FDA inspector). That petrified me.
As the Fates would have it, I received a letter encouraging me to participate as a charter member in this new entity, The International Society of Pharmaceutical Engineers, which was explained as a gathering place for peers in pharmaceutical engineering disciplines to share best practices. I was thrilled to find out that there were others like myself who desired to create common standards for the Industry and as I began to attend meetings, I learned that we all needed each other’s input.
The charter members were young, aggressive, and desired to improve their areas of responsibility while improving their professional status in the Industry. In doing so, we all volunteered to take part in seminars and annual events in various roles. I can recall being the T-shirt guy at more than one annual meeting when we were an all-volunteer operation. In fact, many of our spouses were instrumental in developing annual meeting programs that carry on to this day. As informative as the meetings have been and continue to be, I believe the spirit of ISPE lies in face-to-face interaction, member participation, and friendships made, some with the assistance of an adult beverage or two.
How did you come to dedicate your career to the pharma industry?
I never imaged I would be in pharma. I began my career in the defense industry at Pratt & Whitney Aircraft, working my way up from a mail boy to truck driver to inventory analyst to paymaster to production planner.
Then, an opportunity arose to take on an expanded planning role at Miles Laboratories’ new plant in Orange, Connecticut. In my ten years there, I worked in planning dermatologic production, allergenic extracts, technical, inside, and outside sales while getting my degrees on nights and weekends. It was at this point that I realized the pharmaceutical industry was my calling.
In 1977, Forest Laboratories was merging with Inwood Laboratories and I was asked to take on the role of Operations Manager, involving support for production and the supply chain. As I mentioned earlier, I was thrust into engineering just as ISPE was forming. Over time, interaction with my peers at ISPE led me to a series of promotions that ultimately resulted in my becoming Corporate Vice President of Engineering and Facilities at Forest. ISPE support took me from learning how to operate, validate, and maintain a single Stokes B2 tablet press to building, equipping, and maintaining millions of square feet of GMP, GLP and GXP facilities and offices worldwide. In the process, I had the honor of participating in the development of world-class drugs, like Celexa, Lexapro, and Namenda, that have benefitted society as a whole.
What are your thoughts on the state of pharma today as opposed to 1980?
ISPE has been a driving force in converting the ‘art’ of pharmaceutical production into the engineering driven science of today.
In 1980, there was no unified approach on how to produce pharmaceuticals, and biologics were just being discussed in research circles. We were in the dark ages. When ISPE formed, it was a breath of fresh air for not only members of the trade, but also for the FDA, giving them a forum to talk directly, both formally and informally, to professionals in the industry. ISPE has been a leader in the development of the best practices we see today through its many publications, seminars, and the like. I always felt the Industry began an uphill climb toward international uniformity at that moment in time. Today, although I have not been active in pharma for the past few years, I see a much more complex matrix of activities that an individual or corporation, including the FDA, must wade through that is no longer simply science but includes politics and international affairs. My hope is that the Industry, led by input from ISPE, can once again simplify the process of bringing quality drugs to the market.
What do you hope to see in the coming years?
As I said, I expect ISPE will look beyond today’s challenges and see a simplified professional path to bringing pharmaceuticals and biologics to the market efficiently and effectively, by developing better coordination between companies and agencies worldwide while continuing to review, update, and improve the detailed programs and processes currently in place. As proven by the push for a COVID-19 vaccine worldwide, a more efficient method for bringing drugs to the marketplace is possible.
Anything else to share?
As we have seen in recent months, we can get products developed and to market quickly if there is the political will and science in place to do so. Safety cannot be put aside to do that, but I hope that from this darkest hour, we will take some good from it for the future improvement of our industry and our lives. ISPE has been and will continue to be a leader in this effort to keep our world healthy. Stay safe.