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The Future of Pharma Is Incredibly Fast

Continuous manufacturing will transform the way drugs are made, says Novartis CEO.

At the second day of a manufacturing conference on MIT’s campus, the CEO of pharmaceutical giant Novartis, Joseph Jimenez, suggested big changes are in store for the way his company makes drugs. A new, experimental method for producing pills could drastically reduce production times, increase revenue, and improve quality, he said.

Typically, drugs are produced batch by batch—workers at a chemical manufacturing plant take a certain amount of raw materials, transform them into active pharmaceutical ingredients, and then often ship the ingredients to another site where another set of workers converts the material into a batch of pills. However, Novartis, and perhaps other drug companies, may make drugs quite differently in the future. The company has been working with MIT for five years to develop a system in which drugs are continuously made, ingredients added as needed, all in one location. The continuous method setup also allows manufacturers to use different chemical reactions than can be used in the batch method.

Jimenez’s presentation suggested the collaboration has been quite a success. Using the typical batch method, it took the company nearly 12 months to turn raw ingredients into packaged pills of Diovan, a Novartis drug used to treat high blood pressure and heart failure. Using the continuous manufacturing method, the same could be achieved in a mere six hours, said Jimenez.

“This will change the way medicine is made around the world,” he said.

The company plans to build a commercial-scale continuous manufacturing facility by 2015. 

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