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Drugs on demand

A new technique makes it possible to rapidly make biopharmaceuticals in small batches.

Dec 19, 2018
Photo of pill bottles

Biopharmaceuticals, a class of drugs comprising proteins such as antibodies and hormones, are often used to treat cancer, cardiovascular disease, and autoimmune disorders, and they’re increasingly important for precision medicine—drugs tailored to the genetic or molecular profiles of particular groups of patients.

Such drugs are normally manufactured at large facilities dedicated to a single product, using processes that are difficult to reconfigure. This rigidity means that manufacturers tend to focus on drugs needed by many patients, while drugs that could help smaller populations may not be made.

To help make more of these drugs available, MIT researchers have developed a new way to rapidly manufacture biopharmaceuticals on demand.

“Traditional biomanufacturing relies on unique processes for each new molecule that is produced,” says chemical engineering professor J. Christopher Love, who led the research team. “We’ve demonstrated a single hardware configuration that can produce different recombinant proteins in a fully automated, hands-free manner.”

The new, agile manufacturing system, which can fit on a lab benchtop, can easily be reprogrammed to rapidly produce a variety of different drugs on demand. It requires very little human oversight while maintaining the high quality of protein required for use in patients. The researchers have used it to produce three different biopharmaceuticals and showed that they are of comparable quality to commercially available versions.