MIT lab shrinks drug manufacturing process into a small prototype machine

Dive Brief:

  • Researchers at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) have designed a prototype machine which can produce as many as 1,000 pills in a day, despite being the size of a refrigerator, reports NPR.
  • Designed to shrink down the large footprint of pharmaceutical manufacturing, the machine has received funding from the Department of Defense.
  • Currently, researchers are using the platform to make seven generic drugs, including Benadryl, Valium, and Prozac, and are planning on seeking FDA approval for the machine in the next several years, according to WBUR

Dive Insight:

Pharmaceutical manufacturing has long been dominated by “batch” processing, where drugs are produced by adding ingredients in a series of successive steps. While tried and true, it can add delays and inefficiencies into production.

Recently, the FDA has been pushing the industry to adopt continuous manufacturing to speed up production. Continuous manufacturing feeds raw materials for pharmaceuticals into a continuous, nonstop process.

The machine developed by MIT researchers is a form of that kind of processing, albeit on a dramatically smaller scale.

Portable and speedy drug manufacturing could prove particularly useful for hospitals and other healthcare providers to react quickly in public health emergencies—one reason the DOD is funding MIT’s work. A machine like the one in development by MIT could also be used to make smaller amounts of drugs for use in clinical trials or for orphan diseases—areas where traditional, large-scale pharma manufacturing is more expensive, notes MIT News.

The researchers said their platform would be best used as a backup or alternative to traditional processes, according to MIT News. 

One problem that could arise, however, is providing sufficient oversight and quality assurance to put the small-scale production on par with certified manufacturing plants. Intellectual property issues could also hamper widespread use for other drugs besides those off-patent. 

Filed Under: Manufacturing
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