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MIT Inventing a Machine That Manufactures Pharmaceuticals in a New Way

Innovation Ahead signBoston, MA, June 2, 2016 — WBUR’s Martha Beinger reports on Kaiser Health News that in a lab at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), all the work that happens in a vast pharmaceutical manufacturing plant happens in a device the size of your kitchen refrigerator.

And it’s fast.  This prototype machine produces 1,000 pills in 24 hours, faster than it can take to produce some batches in a factory.

Allan Myerson, a professor of chemical engineering at MIT and a leader of the effort, says it could become eventually an option for anyone who makes medications, which typically require a lengthy and complex process of crystallization.

“We’re giving them an alternative to traditional plants and we’re reducing the time it takes to manufacturer a drug,” he said.

The Defense Department is funding this project because the devices could go to field hospitals for troops, hard-to-reach areas to help combat a disease outbreak, or be dropped at strategic spots across the U.S.

“If there was an emergency you could have these little plants located all over. You just turn them on and you start turning out different pharmaceuticals that are needed,” Myerson said.

Sounds simple? It’s not. This mini drug plant represents a sea change in how medications have been made for a long time.

“For roughly two centuries, to be honest,” says Tim Jamison, a professor of chemistry at MIT and one of Myerson’s partners, along with Klavs Jensen, a professor of chemical engineering at MIT. “The way that we tend to do chemistry is in flasks and beakers and that sort of thing, and we call that batch chemistry — one batch at a time,” he says.

That’s the way virtually all pharmaceuticals are made. Big batches of chemicals are synthesized, then they have to cool down, then are synthesized again to create new compounds.

Then those compounds have to crystallize, filter and dry. Powders are added to make a tablet or capsule. These steps that can take months. This new device, says Jamison, produces medicine in one fast continuous process.

For Bebinger’s complete story, click here.