MIT makes continuous manufacturing unit small enough to fit in a pharmacy

The work for the unit is being funded by the Defense Department, which sees its potential to be put into field hospitals or dropped into combat zones to produce some drugs, MIT scientists told NPR.  However, there could be lots of other uses for a unit the size of a refrigerator that can produce 1,000 pills in 24 hours, say, pharmacies or hospitals that want to produce their own drugs.

Allan Myerson, an MIT professor of Chemical Engineering, says it could eventually be an option for anyone.  “We’re giving them an alternative to traditional plants and we’re reducing the time it takes to manufacture a drug,” he says.

The equipment has yet to be approved by the FDA and there are lots of questions about impinging on intellectual approval and oversight if there are thousands of these around the world churning out meds.  MIT, where much of the work for continuous processing has been done, is instead focused on reducing the size of the unit even further.

However, the unit does offer possibilities for the industry at a time when more companies are buying into the benefits of continuous manufacturing, in which ingredients are continuously fed into production units that integrate weighing, milling, blending, compression and other processes into a single line.  The process requires less production space, so it costs much less and produces far less waste.

The United States Food and Drug Administration (FDA), which has approved several continuous manufacturing operations already, is pushing the industry to embrace the technology, seeing it as one way to improve drug-making quality by reducing the chances for human error.

The Agency has approved a $30 million, 4,000-square-foot continuous manufacturing facility in Boston built by Vertex to produce its new cystic fibrosis drug, Orkambi.  Also in April, FDA gave Johnson & Johnson’s Janssen drug unit approval to switch from batch processing to continuous production for its HIV drug Prezista on a line at its plant in Gurabo, Puerto Rico.  J&J has said it plans to eventually produce 70% of its high-volume products through continuous manufacturing.

Other large drug makers are building continuous manufacturing facilities.

REFERENCE:  Fierce Pharma; 24 MAY 2016; Eric Palmer

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