Innovation And R&D In Freeze-Drying

Jul 01, 2011


Isobel Cook
The production of lyophilised medicinal products raises many challenges, including identifying critical temperatures, ensuring that the product is processed accordingly, optimising cycles to reduce run times and manufacturing costs, making sure the right containers are used and fit for purpose, and ensuring product uniformity, activity and stability.

In the past few years, theories and practices in lyophilisation technology have largely remained the same except for small incremental changes, which means that the process as a whole tends to evolve slowly over time. Extensive research is still being conducted to produce a reliable and easy-to-implement endpoint identification method, negating the need for pressure rise tests or temperature probe monitoring. However, several processes and products have recently come on to the market that may benefit the pharma industry.

New technologies

One recent innovation is Praxair's Control Lyo Nucleation technology, which allows the freezing point of solutions in freeze dryers to be precisely controlled. Generally, solutions are cooled to below their critical temperature before primary drying is commenced, but the freezing point of different vials can be somewhat random resulting in a non-uniform ice structure, which introduces variability in the drying rate. Praxair's solution could increase control of the process to decrease moisture variability within the product, leading to narrower moisture ranges and potentially reducing the secondary drying time required to achieve acceptable product quality.

Other developments have come onto the market in terms of packaging; Lyoseal technology (Biocorp) enables vials to be stoppered and crimped within the freeze dryer, potentially saving capping time and helping to ensure container seal integrity. Improvements in glass design, geometry and surface coatings have also helped to reduce vial breakage and cycle times; for example, Easy Lyo (SGD) vials are 30% lighter than traditional vials, and therefore feature improved heat transfer to reduce cycle times. Top Lyo (Adelphi) vials have an ultra-thin hydrophobic transparent layer (40-100 nm) on the internal surface of the vial that helps prevent the collapse of the lyophilisation cake and can almost completely reduce the residual volume. Enhanced vial geometry also provides improved thermal transfer and a dramatic reduction in vial breakage during lyophilisation. There are also products coming onto the market that enable remote temperature probe monitoring.

These products are relatively new and have yet to be widely used, but all offer potential advantages to the pharma industry in terms of product quality and cost.

The bio challenge

The challenges of lyophilising bio-based products mainly relate to the identification of critical temperatures and product behaviour during the drying process. Freeze-drying microscopy (Lyostat3; Biopharma Technology) can be used to measure collapse or eutectic temperature and identify skin formation potential (which may prevent or slow the drying process), while the polarised light application can enable visual observation of the degree of crystallinity within a sample. Differential thermal analysis and impedance analysis (Lyotherm2; Biopharma Technology) enables the identification of glass transitions, crystallisation and changes in structural mobility. Modulated differential scanning calorimetry (MDSC) analysis (TA Instruments) can also provide information on the frozen state and dried product stability.

As well as the initial characterisation of the active ingredient, bio-based entities require appropriate formulation to protect them from freezing- or drying-induced damage. With proteins, it is important to prevent the molecule from unfolding (from which it can often not recover), which may, for example, require certain sugars to protect it whilst the water is being removed. Prokaryotic or eukaryotic cells may demand certain freezing rates or special processes to prevent cell breakage. Naturally-derived products can be particularly challenging because of their inherent variability; robustness needs to be built into the formulation and lyophilisation-cycle. Certain products, such as collagen, may also require the production of a consistent, specific pore size and shape to be effective. It is also important to ensure that the dried-state storage temperature is practical for the product being developed because this affects how long the product can be stored and what storage temperatures are required. Careful analysis and monitoring of the whole lyophilisation process is crucial to achieve the correct product parameters. This can involve monitoring the product temperature during drying, pressure rise tests or a capacitance manometer and pirani gauge. In addition, moisture analysis of samples (moisture is critical to product stability) should be performed along with stability/activity analysis relevant to the product. These activities, as well as characterisation of the frozen state prior to freeze drying, are important to ensure product quality.

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