Promoting microreactor technology to the pharma industry

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Pharmaceutical Technology Europe PTE

Sophie Walton, Business Manager at CPI UK explains how Centre for Process Innovation (CPI) UK partners with industry to promote microreactor technology (MRT).

Sophie Walton, Business Manager at CPI UK explains how Centre for Process Innovation (CPI) UK partners with industry to promote microreactor technology (MRT). This interview accompanies a feature published in the October issue of Pharmaceutical Technology Europe.

Q1: CPI partners with firms to research and develop technologies; how does it promote these projects and innovations to industry?
CPI has a variety of methods which it uses to promote projects to industry. By far the most successful way of doing this is through our business and technical teams' extensive networks with UK and European industry. We also work to actively recruit new members to our projects and collaborations — be these private collaborations or public/private partnerships.

Q2: Specifically, how is CPI working with industrial clients to evaluate and promote Corning’s Advanced Flow Reactor Technology?
We have partnered with Corning on its Advanced Flow Reactor Technology to demonstrate the value of MRT to pharmaceutical clients, who can work with us to trial the technology on a small-scale and at minimum risk. The facility is relatively new to CPI, having only opened for commissioning projects in August 2008, since then we have been working on several large projects for top 10 pharma clients. These projects usually take the form of a 'look and see' feasibility project on the target chemistry, which generally lasts two weeks and is relatively low cost and low risk for the client. From this we can achieve over 50 data points under different reaction conditions and it gives us a real feel for any significant benefit of the flow reactor on the chemistry. We usually then run into a more detailed 'optimization phase' which really proves the concept to the client.


We have been working on critical projects for these customers so unfortunately they have all been highly confidential to date. However, we hope, in the next 6 months, to collaborate with some of these clients on separate projects, specifically to create publishable results and case studies. We will then also be able to publish the names of the high profile companies involved, so watch this space!

In addition, we have collaborated with some smaller companies, which we can talk about. For example, we are due to kick off a project with innovative UK-based SME LyraChem, which aims to jointly develop groundbreaking chemical reactions, and then upscale these using MRT. The first project to come through is likely to be a direct amidation method for pharmaceutical production, which has previously been considered impossible to perform and is a step change in reaction chemistry.

Q3: How does the UK process manufacturing sector compare with some of its European neighbours and the US in terms of knowledge, acceptance and size of the market?
We are the fourth best scientific nation on the planet, which is a fantastic achievement, however, nowadays we tend to lose some of the value of our inventions by allowing these inventions to be scaled up and taken to market elsewhere in the world. The process manufacturing sector has been hit as a consequence, in particular in the pharmaceutical sector, we see many UK sites which would like to progress and innovate their processes but which are controlled from overseas headquarters, which I’m sure is similar in many other European countries too.

The process manufacturing sector is quite a broad term covering many different markets so it’s tricky to say how the UK compares in total in its activities. Certainly in Teesside, where CPI is based, there is a wide public acceptance and indeed a positive perception of process manufacturing. This is a definite attraction to companies in the area and has won CPI and our industrial neighbours business from other areas in the UK and Europe; I think this level of positivity about the sector is rare in many regions. Currently we have a very knowledgeable workforce in the UK within all levels of our business. However, we do foresee a skills shortage in the future as many graduates opt out of science and engineering, which will be critical skills in the future. There are National strategies in place to try and address this, but we have a long way to go here.

Q4: Are there similar 'centres for innovation' in Europe and the US?
We'd like to think there is only one CPI! However, we find similarities in our business model and technology platforms with other European centres of excellence, such as VTT in Finland and the Fraunhofer group in Germany, although we have some way to go in terms of scale when compared with these groups. We have a public/private partnership model which gives us a unique ability to work in multi-partner collaborations and also on intensely private projects for individual clients with groundbreaking intellectual property. We are always focused on the delivery of market led technologies and focus on development rather than early-stage research. We also try to work in areas critical to survival in the future, such as health, energy, communication and the environment, which we know is the basis for several other centres of excellence. We have recently been cited as an example of good practice by a Government white paper, titled "Innovation Nation" and moving forward we hope to play an important role in setting specific areas of the agenda in national and European innovation policies and deployment, as well as creating an international hub for innovation in our sector.

Q5: What milestones have been achieved in your partnership with Corning so far and what do you still hope to achieve?
We have come a long way in the project and I think significant milestones included agreeing a legal and business relationship and structure that would benefit both our companies and which would also be flexible enough to partner with many different third party organizations. We needed to ensure in all these models that we brought real value to our customers' businesses and that we could help them protect and enforce their IP positions. Another major milestone was reached when we completed the design for the facility and surrounding infrastructure. The facility is quite unique in design and both parties worked hard to build something that would be flexible enough to accommodate many different customers and processes and yet that would be safe, effective and value for money. The next milestone was when we successfully completed the installation and commissioning of the facility, which was on time and on budget. I think the final milestone was hit after we completed our first big customer job and found that we had worked together well and delivered a really good project for the customer. When we run the projects for the customer we are usually working in a three-way collaboration, so CPI, Corning and the customer are all important stakeholders and all work together with representative employees on the ground within the facility.