RAPID Advancements Driving Change

This month’s Special Section on Process Intensification gives you a look into the many projects being driven by the RAPID Manufacturing Institute. Concepts such as modularization, electrification, and continuous processing are being harmonized to create sustainable, efficient technologies that will be the foundation of tomorrow’s chemical facilities.

Advancing pharmaceutical manufacturing

One area of research that I find particularly interesting is the modularization and intensification of pharmaceutical platforms. In his article, Nima Yazdanpanah describes efforts to transition manufacturing from batch to continuous processes. He mentions one player in this space, On Demand Pharmaceuticals, the creators of the Pharmacy on Demand (PoD) machine. Each PoD is the size of a refrigerator and contains microreactors and continuous flow chemical processes to make active pharmaceutical ingredients (API) and formulated medicines in the form of a pill or liquid. Such modular plants could one day be used to produce medicines on-demand in hospitals or local laboratories.

Modular intensified technologies necessitate innovations in process control and automation. RAPID brings together industry-leading organizations that share developments and research in this area. A similar alliance exists in the biopharmaceutical industry. The BioPhorum connects biopharmaceutical companies and supply partners to enable collaboration and innovation in biopharmaceutical technologies. Within the biopharmaceutical industry, the bespoke nature of interfaces makes it difficult to link technologies from different vendors. The Bio-Phorum’s Plug and Play project team is creating an equipment and automation standard to accelerate the setup and configuration of modular monoclonal antibody (mAb) drug substance manufacturing systems. The Plug and Play project will enable the connection of modules from different organizations. Put simply, an equipment skid from one vendor would seamlessly connect with a distributed control system from another vendor over an interface that is standardized for a variety of end-users.

Aiding COVID-19 vaccine production

The COVID-19 pandemic has accelerated the rate of development of modular designs to rapidly expand vaccine production capacity, in particular, the building of cleanroom infrastructures. For example, in September 2020, design firm CRB launched SlateXpace, a modular, prefabricated building process that involves parallel construction of a facility core and shell, while cleanroom modules are built offsite. Such an innovative construction approach could allow a customer to get a vaccine production line off the ground in less than a year.

Despite these promising advances, many of us who want to be vaccinated in the U.S. may be waiting until summer to get our shots, or even longer. Depending on your country of residence, your wait may be many more months. These timelines could shrink if pharmaceutical companies improve efficiencies and exponentially ramp up vaccine production. Pfizer, for instance, announced in early February that it plans to cut the amount of time it takes to produce a batch of COVID-19 vaccine from 110 days to an average of 60 days as it builds out capacity. Achieving such a drastic decrease is made possible through continual technology development and industry collaboration. Now, more than ever, it is essential that scientists and engineers work together to speed vaccine production and deployment.

This editorial originally appeared in the March 2021 issue of CEPMembers have access online to complete issues, including a vast, searchable archive of back-issues found at aiche.org/cep.