A new refrigerator-sized machine can produce 1,000 doses of four types of prescription drugs in 24 hours. No, this is not a drug pusher’s psychedelic dream. The machine is not for home use but for pharmaceutical firms to expand their reach and help more customers in a more timely and cost-effective manner.
The study, published by the American Association for the Advancement of Sciences states,
Pharmaceutical manufacturing typically uses batch processing at multiple manufacturing plants. Disadvantages of this approach include long production times and the potential for supply chain interruptions.
This portable pharmaceutical “manufacturing plant” may be used in places with unexpected disease outbreaks, may prevent a drug shortage if a major manufacturing plant has to temporarily shut down, may be used in clinical trials and may be used to create “orphan drugs” - those needed by a small number of patients.
Created by researchers at MIT, this new machine is aptly named “Pharmacy on Demand.” It uses small tubes, instead of large vats, to develop chemical reactions used in the creation of drugs. This system allows reactions that produce a great deal of heat than can be run safely. The chemical reactions used to synthesize each drug takes place in the first of two modules. These reactions can take place at temperatures up to 250 degrees Celsius and at pressure up to 17 atmospheres. Module components are changeable and can be reconfigured to produce different drugs.
One of the researchers, Allan Myerson, professor of the practice in the Department of Chemical Engineering at MIT says,
Think of this as an emergency backup for pharmaceutical manufacturing. The purpose is not to replace traditional manufacturing; it’s to provide an alternative for these special situations.
Klaus Jensen, Warren K. Lewis Professor of Engineering at MIT adds,
The goal of this project was to build a small-scale, portable unit that was completely integrated, so you could imagine being able to ship it anywhere. And as long as you had the right chemicals, you could make pharmaceuticals.
Currently, four drugs have been produced in liquid suspensions using this process: Benadryl, lidocaine, Valium and Prozac.
Researchers are currently working on the second phase of this project. The goal is to make the machine 40% smaller and produce drugs whose chemical syntheses are more complex. They are also working on producing tablets, which are more complicated to manufacture than liquids.