Mini factory made drugs on demand

Continuous-flow system went from synthesis to dosage forms in hours

Stu Borman

The upstream reactor side of the improved version of MIT’s pharmacy-on-demand system (left) couples with the downstream isolation and purification side (right), which includes precipitation, filtration, dissolution, crystallization, and formulation units. Credit: MIT
The upstream reactor side of the improved version of MIT’s pharmacy-on-demand system (left) couples with the downstream isolation and purification side (right), which includes precipitation, filtration, dissolution, crystallization, and formulation units.
Credit: MIT

Drug manufacturers typically produce drugs in batches in large factories. But a new trend is developing in the pharmaceutical industry to reduce infrastructure costs by using small continuous-flow systems to make drug doses on demand.

In an innovative example this year, Timothy F. Jamison, Klavs F. Jensen, and Allan S. Myerson of Massachusetts Institute of Technology and coworkers designed a refrigerator-sized mini factory to make clinic-ready drug formulations (Science 2016, DOI: 10.1126/science.aaf1337). The system combines an upstream chemical reactor unit with downstream precipitation, filtration, recrystallization, and formulation components. It also has chemical analysis and computational modules for quality control and process evaluation. The mini factory, which can make hundreds or even thousands of doses of a drug in about two hours, could be particularly useful for making medicines with a short shelf life; for use by small groups of patients, small companies, or developing countries; and for addressing sudden public health needs.

When the MIT mini factory was first disclosed in April, a researcher commented that most process chemists would not have believed it was possible to embody such broad capability in such a small package. But since then, the MIT group has reduced the system’s size further—by 40%—by developing smaller and more easily loadable reactor components and downsizing the pumps, among other changes. The latest version can also produce more-complex drug molecules than before. On Demand Pharmaceuticals is working toward commercializing the patented technology.

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