Professor Alastair Florence - EPSRC Manufacturing Hub Interviews

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Interview with Professor Alastair Florence - Director, EPSRC Future Continuous Manufacturing and Advanced Crystallisation (CMAC) Hub.

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Professor Alastair Florence – Director, EPSRC Future Continuous Manufacturing and Advanced Crystallisation (CMAC) Hub

I am Alastair Florence.  I am the Director for the Centre for Continuous Manufacturing and Crystallisation based at the University of Strathclyde.

We are largely concerned with developing new manufacturing approaches for pharmaceuticals and other high-value chemical products.  We focus on small molecule medicines – so chemicals, aspirin, ibuprofen, paracetamol.  Many of the current medicines at the moment are these small chemical entities, so manufactured using synthetic chemical processes and delivered.  Our focus has particularly been on solid oral dosage forms – so things that you would take as a tablet.

Over the last year within our centre there has certainly been a significant focus on pulling a number of technologies together, to demonstrate what we refer to as workflows, so a systematic approach to gather information of the physical properties of a system, to characterise manufacturing platforms that we have and to use that information to design individual stages in the manufacture.  We have a particular focus on crystallisation because of the importance in purifying the chemicals that are used in medicines, in controlling their properties, so the stability of them, so if you make them in December it is the same drug compound in the tablet the following December and even up to five years or more after that.

Crystallisation is hugely important, but it is poorly understood – so making crystals, making them consistently so the performance of the medicine in the patient is consistent, safe and effective, is a key objective.  We may want to control particle size so that you can inhale the drug and can get a very direct effect to treat the lungs, or to avoid systemic exposure of the drug to manage side effects. You may start to look at the manufacturing process differently because of these technologies.  Continuous manufacturing, rather than doing everything in one pot and watching the system change over time, allows you to actually separate out those changes in space.  There are some advantages of that, one being that you can actually control the crystallisation step in a smaller volume with greater accuracy and perhaps do different things, so can we introduce excipient earlier on in the process, and actually fundamentally change the way we would manufacture our medicines.

We were very fortunate in the early days in having three companies, GSK, AstraZeneca and Novartis, who were willing to work with the academic community collaboratively with seven universities in our partnership.  They came together to work pre-competitively and five/six years ago that was really quite innovative for the pharmaceutical industry in particular.

So over the last five years, I think in terms of impact, we have seen technologies taken up by some of these companies.  We have brought new technology companies, not just end users, but technology manufacturers, into this partnership and that is helping inform them where there is a demand for solutions and also us to gain access to cutting edge technologies.

I think as we look forward we are hoping to deliver across a number of areas, research fundamental understanding and technologies and know how the industry can exploit to manufacture medicines more efficiently and getting medicines to market more quickly.  However you have to take a longer view and that’s what EPSRC is doing through the future manufacturing hubs.