Researchers at University of Limerick have developed a new modelling approach to pharmaceutical manufacturing that could reduce the time required to bring medicines to market.

Bernal Chair of Pharmaceutical Powder Engineering, Professor Gavin Walker has had a world’s first paper published in applying molecular engineering methodologies to continuous pharmaceutical manufacturing.

The paper addresses an important public health issue of reducing the time required to bring new medicines to market for the benefit of patients and society.

The pharmaceutical industry has recently been increasing research in continuous manufacturing techniques to decrease the manufacturing costs of medical products, making them more affordable and getting them to more consumers more rapidly at a reduced carbon and environmental footprint.

The UL research emphasises the increasing significance of combining process engineering, modelling and data science to generate a better understanding of processes at a molecular scale for the optimisation of pharmaceutical manufacturing.

The study has been published in the world-leading general science journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS).

Professor Walker explained that: “This contribution offers a ‘proof of concept’ to make it achievable to model specific co-crystals at a molecular scale within a continuous pharmaceutical manufacturing process.

“Molecular interactions can be altered to optimise drug properties and this process can be crucial to the performance of a dosage form which links to the preparation of the safe delivery of the content of the drug product for the ultimate benefits of patients and society.

“There is huge value in improving the productivity of the drug development process. This study expands on possibilities that exist for future development of progressing towards more supportive mechanisms in the pharmaceutical manufacturing space, improving processing and reducing time to market for new medicine,” he added.

The study was led by Professor Walker and funded through CONFIRM, the SFI Research Centre for Smart Manufacturing and SSPC, the SFI Research Centre for Pharmaceuticals which are both based at UL, and European funding through the MSCA ‘Process’ Co-Fund.

Professor Walker said of the research: “It will aid the current pharmaceutical development processes of exhaustive empirical experimentation, in that time and cost can be reduced through this more controlled and targeted approach via Smart Manufacturing techniques.

“The paper represents a significant bridge by adapting mathematical modelling developed in the discrete manufacturing sector into effective techniques for improving continuous manufacturing within the pharma-biopharma sector.

“This is critical to achieve UN Sustainable Development grand challenges in good health and wellbeing, as well as ensuring healthy lives and promoting well-being for all at all ages, optimising biopharma processing and reducing time to market for new medicines,” he added.

Speaking about the research output, SSPC Director, Professor Damien Thompson, said: “The paper represents a significant deployment of data-driven molecular modelling for improving continuous manufacturing within the pharma-biopharma sector. It is great to see such impact from collaborative work bridging two SFI research centres hosted at University of Limerick.”

Dr Niall Keely, CONFIRM Strategic Research Manager, added: “The research presented in this paper highlights the significant impact of combining multiple science and engineering disciplines to advance knowledge of processes at the molecular level that ultimately can lead to benefits at the industrial scale and improved business processes such as faster time-to-market of products.”