An EPSRC (Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council) Centre for revolutionising the way pharmaceuticals and other chemicals are made was officially launched on Friday, 8 April.
The collaborative initiative involving leading academics and industrialists, led by the University of Strathclyde in Glasgow, is seeking quicker, more effective and more sustainable methods of manufacturing products such as medicines, foodstuffs, dyes, pigments and nanomaterials.
The research team plans to develop a better understanding of the way these products form and to improve ways to control this, using new processes for manufacturing. The chemical and pharmaceutical sectors are worth £113 billion to the UK economy annually in sales and the new national EPSRC centre will improve and accelerate the production of a broad range of products.
In particular, by delivering better control over the process of crystallisation, the research team will create new opportunities for innovation in solid chemical products such as pharmaceuticals.
The new Centre will allow leading research teams to work together to develop technologies that ensure medicines and other materials can be produced using continuous manufacturing approaches, rather than using traditional batch methods. A key aspect to this is developing crystallisation technologies that deliver better control than is currently possible. In addition to the more efficient use of materials and resources, these techniques offer the opportunity to reduce running costs by up to 60% and energy requirements by up to 70%.
Strathclyde is leading the EPSRC Centre for Innovative Manufacturing in Continuous Manufacturing and Crystallisation, which also involves the Universities of Bath, Cambridge, Edinburgh, Glasgow, Heriot-Watt and Loughborough. Substantial support is also being provided by industry partners that include GlaxoSmithKline, Pfizer, AstraZeneca, Fujifilm, British Salt, Croda International plc, Genzyme Ltd, NiTech Solutions, Phoenix Chemicals and Solid Form Solutions Ltd.
Professor Alastair Florence, of the Strathclyde Institute of Pharmacy and Biomedical Sciences, is Director of the new Centre. He said: "We are delighted to be establishing this new EPSRC Centre that brings together leading academic expertise in crystallisation, analysis, chemistry, formulation and manufacturing from across the UK.
"This unique national Centre will provide a focus for early stage engineering and physical sciences research that will ultimately feed through directly to the activities of Technology and Innovation Centres and industry, making a radical and much-needed impact on the production of many different high-value products. By working together in this way, the UK research community will contribute to the competitiveness of companies across a variety of important sectors including pharmaceuticals, fine chemicals, dyes & pigments, energy, food and drink.
"We will carry out an innovative programme of research and, by close engagement with our industrial colleagues, ensure that the exciting new research programme is targeted to areas of real national need. In this way, for example, the research carried out with the support of this award will benefit patients through better medicines, produced more efficiently, at lower cost and more sustainably.
"In addition to improving the way drug substances are produced, work within the Centre will also explore alternative approaches to manufacturing the medicines in which drugs are delivered to patients. This could include alternatives to the traditional tablet that are also safe and effective but are more straightforward to make. Whilst we have a significant focus around pharmaceuticals, we have many different chemical sectors involved in the Centre, which will ensure the broad exploitation of the research outcomes across the chemical process industries."
The Centre is part of a £51 million investment by EPSRC in nine new centres officially launched today, through the UK-wide EPSRC Centre for Innovative Manufacturing programme. It has received a grant of £4.9 million from the programme and support worth a total of £1.8 million is also being contributed by industry, with a further £1 million coming from the universities to establish a new partnership between universities, industry and the public sector in this area.
It follows the launch of the £89 million Technology and Innovation Centre (TIC) at Strathclyde, a world-leading centre for transforming the way universities, business and industry collaborate to bring global competitive advantage to Scotland. The TIC and the new EPSRC centre will work in parallel, forging greater collaboration between academic researchers and industry.
The Centre for Innovative Manufacturing team of researchers, from seven leading UK universities and a range of industrial partners, harnesses skills and expertise in chemistry, chemical engineering, crystallisation, pharmaceutical sciences, manufacturing and operations management.
The group will:
- Establish a World Class Research Centre to improve manufacturing performance in the UK process industries
- Stimulate innovation and commercialisation of new technologies, particularly through SMEs and startup companies
- Engage with global companies across a range of sectors
- Develop international research and development networks
The EPSRC Centre will also play an important role in training the scientists of the future in an international centre of excellence.
The partners in the EPSRC Centre for Innovative Manufacturing project plan to secure further funding from a range of sources to grow the Centre and extend its activity beyond the initial five-year funding period. This builds on other recent success in this area for the collaborating universities- a grant from the Scottish Funding Council Horizon fund (SPIRIT), made in 2010, established an initial cohort of nine PhD students, three at Strathclyde.
Strathclyde has also invested a further £500,000 in a new multidisciplinary continuous processing lab, due to open this summer, and will bring together existing teams at the University and house a suite of state-of-the-art reactor devices for continuous manufacturing and crystallisation.