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Portable pharmacy could revolutionise industry

Fri 1 Apr 2016

Pharmacy shelves

Researchers at MIT announced the creation of a portable pharmacy device that can be configured to produce a variety of drugs on demand. The system could be used in an unexpected increase in demand, for example, a widespread outbreak of disease, or if there is a supply shortage, as in the event of a manufacturing plant shut down. Because it circumvents the cumbersome traditional ‘batch processing’ of prescription medications, it could also be useful in producing drugs that are needed in small quantities, either for clinical trials or the treatment of rare diseases.

The new device, which is approximately the size of an average refrigerator (1 x 0.7 x 1.8 meters) can synthesize a drug from the chemical compound stage to a liquid solution or suspension appropriate for human consumption. It can produce four drugs, Benadryl, Lidocaine, Valium or Prozac, and can manufacture approximately 1000 doses in a 24-hour period. “The purpose is not to replace traditional manufacturing; it’s to provide an alternative for these special situations,” said Dr. Allan S. Myerson, Professor of the Practice of Chemical Engineering and co-author of the paper announcing the project. Research for the device is funded by the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA), and has obvious applications in both remote locations and by the military.

Screen Shot 2016-04-01 at 16.03.30Traditional pharmaceutical manufacturing uses batch processing, whereby chemical manufacturing plants synthesize large batches of pharmaceutical ingredients which are then shipped off-site to be converted into tablets, solutions or suspensions that can be delivered to patients. Chemical reactions take place in huge vats, and accelerating the production of drugs is limited by the difficulty of cooling those vats. Since the portable device is much smaller, different module components can easily be swapped to allow for easy reconfiguration to produce different drugs.

Small scale manufacturing is not only portable and flexible, and of use in emergency situations, it could also be used to bring down the costs of production (which could be passed on to the end patient), but it can also help patients get access to a better variety of the drugs they need. There are many drugs that are cost-prohibitive to produce on a large scale which could be produced on an on-demand device. It also eliminates the need for costly storage, as the machine produces medication on demand. The drugs themselves could be produced without the need for long-term stability, further simplifying the process.

Researchers are working on Phase 2 of the project, which includes making the system 40% smaller, producing a greater variety of drugs, and producing tablets, which are more difficult to manufacture than the liquid solutions or suspensions.

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