The ailment

In the face of rising economic, technological and environmental challenges, UK pharmaceutical companies constantly seek smarter and greener ways to manufacture medicinal products.

Continuous processing is clearly an attractive proposition, since chemicals are manufactured in an ongoing process rather than in discrete batches. This method offers many advantages aside from shortening the scale of development time from laboratory to production. It's less wasteful, more environmentally favourable and potentially safer.

However, industry was slow to respond to these potential opportunities, so Bath stepped in.

The cure

In 2006, our researchers filed a patent for a continuous flow reactor. Having subsequently made technological improvements and tested model reactions, the team was poised to engage with industrial partners.

They were able to further demonstrate the viability of continuous processing while responding to the needs of industrial partners, and facilitating the scaling up from laboratory to commercial scale. Following discussions with leading pharmaceutical companies, reactions of interest were identified and studied in more detail.

Working with Mast Carbons International, the team then used novel carbon monoliths as catalyst supports which, in this concept, are retained in the reactor, and demonstrated the viability of such processes. We also developed a laboratory bench-top Mini-Mo (mini-monolith) Reactor that facilitated the translation from laboratory to a pilot-scale Radiator Monolith Reactor.

The prognosis

We realised that this type of process could be used to achieve more sustainable manufacture of pharmaceuticals, where either partial oxidation reactions or hydrogenation reactions take place, such as in the manufacture of Paracetamol. Negotiations took place with industrial partners concerning the commercial development of continuous process reactors, drawing on Bath’s designs.

The technology offers multiple commercial opportunities. There's clear potential for pharmaceutical companies and their external suppliers to develop more sustainable methods for manufacturing conventional pharmaceuticals. However, the best may come from new drugs and reaction pathways.