With nearly 3 in 5 Americans currently taking some form of pharmaceutical drug, there is a huge amount of time, money, and effort invested in their production.
$50 billion dollars are spent out of pocket each year on pharmaceutical drugs by patients in the U.S. – a considerably higher amount than most other countries. Unlike countries with government systems being the only large drug buyers with negotiating power, the American market is much more fragmented and privatized.
These conditions cause frequent steep increases in drug prices, making many feel as though the industry is shrouded in mystery.
Streamlining Drug Production
Now a new prototype from the Novartis-MIT Center for Continuous Manufacturing is seeking to transform the production of pharmaceuticals – all using a machine about as large as a refrigerator.
So far, this unit has the ability to output around 1,000 pills every 24 hours. This is faster than it takes some factories to produce the same results. Eventually, it’s believed that this system may take the place of many large-scale productions of pharmaceuticals.
Considering its size, the final iteration of this machine could be installed in hospitals and pharmacies to keep the prescription process streamlined and efficient. Once physicians and doctors can make their own prescriptions as needed, the distribution and pricing of drugs may become a lot less muddled.
Disruption for the Greater Good?
If this prototype can be produced and used at a lower cost, it represents a huge disruption to the pharmaceutical industry and its exorbitant costs.
With drugs able to be manufactured on site, it’s plausible that the industry – or at least a large part of it – will shift to smaller, more independent healthcare entities.
However, the main concerns about the widespread use of this machine deal with the regulations surrounding these drugs, as well as their intellectual property rights.
Most of the time, each drug manufacturer reserves the exclusive right to produce the drugs they develop for a certain period of time. Depending on how much new material is present in the medicine, it may be anywhere from 3 to 5 years until the chemical compounds can be produced as a generic version.
Once a medicine can be produced legally, how will it be regulated from each site and machine to the next? Researchers at MIT have assured that the machine will possess the ability to continually monitor the quality of its product during the entire process. By making automated corrections and giving accurate feeds of information on the synthesis, it is possible to create drugs in a condensed and highly efficient way.
Perhaps not surprisingly, this project is being funded in part by The Department of Defense in order to be used in field hospitals for military personnel. Additionally, it has been proposed that the machine could be deployed to hard-to-reach areas to combat disease outbreaks.
What was once performed with big batches of chemicals which have to be cooled, resynthesized, crystalized, filtered and dried is now possible in a single machine able to fit in nearly every medical establishment nationwide.
Although the prototype isn’t ready to hit the market anytime in the immediate future, it is likely that your hospital or one nearby will see the adoption of this game-changing pharmaceutical machine.