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An online publication from Purdue University’s College of Engineering.

Bridging Pharmacy With Engineering

Various engineering schools are collaborating with industrial pharmacy, mirroring the latter field’s ventures into new frontiers.

by Poornima Apte

Gintaras V. (Rex) Reklaitis, the Burton and Kathryn Gedge Distinguished Professor of Chemical Engineering and professor of industrial and physical pharmacy (by courtesy), left, and researchers from from the Colleges of Pharmacy and Engineering, are utilizing a Purdue pilot plant to address the transition of pharmaceutical manufacturing from the traditional batch mode to continuous manufacturing. (Purdue University photo/Susan Fleck)

The College of Engineering and the College of Pharmacy have been working together since the National Institute for Pharmaceutical Technology & Education was launched under the sponsorship of the College of Pharmacy’s Charles O. (Chip) Rutledge, vice provost emeritus for research, some 15 years ago. The goal was to encourage industrial pharmacy and engineering faculty at Purdue, and at several other institutions, to pursue research relevant to the pharmaceutical industry.

National Science Foundation funding led to development of the Engineering Research Center (ERC) in Structured Organic Particulate Systems in 2006. This partnership brought together key faculty in engineering and industrial pharmacy from Rutgers University, New Jersey Institute of Technology, and the University of Puerto Rico-Mayaguez, along with Gintaras V. (Rex) Reklaitis, the Burton and Kathryn Gedge Distinguished Professor of Chemical Engineering and professor of industrial and physical pharmacy (by courtesy) at Purdue as principal investigator.

Ongoing research has addressed the transition of pharmaceutical manufacturing from the traditional batch mode to continuous manufacturing, with a Purdue pilot plant on campus serving as a demonstration vehicle.

On the education side, the Davidson School of Chemical Engineering offers a professional master’s program with a specialty in pharmaceutical engineering.

Reklaitis facilitates projects that require collaboration between the Colleges of Pharmacy, Engineering, Agriculture and Science. He points out that interdisciplinary engineering studies in partnership with industrial pharmacy and analytical chemistry are more important than ever as the world of pharmaceutical development and manufacturing is taking important steps toward establishing quantitative frameworks for product design and advances in manufacturing. Examples include microscale production of medicines, personalized medicine and 3D-printed drugs.

What’s more, the trend toward more biologically derived products is introducing a range of challenges in meeting cost and quality requirements. “It’s a lot different, for instance, when you’re making a tablet based on a synthetic, organic chemical, or you’re making an injectable product that delivers a protein therapy,” Reklaitis says.

For example, a key step in producing an injectable product is freeze drying. Innovations in the classical batch freeze-drying operation require an understanding of rarefied gas flows – a domain of expertise for aeronautical engineers, such as Alina Alexeenko, professor of aeronautics and astronautics, who is co-leading an industry collaboration in this area.

“The key to progress in manufacturing and development of pharma products is clearly to work in interdisciplinary teams,” Reklaitis says.

In the past year, the College of Engineering has encouraged formation of pharmaceutical technology teams by supporting three interdisciplinary seed projects launched in May 2018.

One project, on precision medicine, includes Reklaitis, as well as co-principal investigators Yuehwern Yih, professor of industrial engineering, and Linas Mockus, senior research scientist in chemical engineering. Reklatis is also co-principal investigator for a project on continuous manufacturing of biologics, joined by co-principal investigators Arezoo Ardekani, associate professor of mechanical engineering; Michael Ladisch, Distinguished Professor of Agricultural and Biological Engineering; and Amit Varma, the Karl H. Kettelhut Professor in Civil Engineering.

The third seed project, “Pharmaceutical Manufacturing Education 2025+: Bridging Industry Needs and University Capabilities,” focuses on developing coursework and a more formal framework for pharmaceutical engineering education. Purdue co-principal investigators include Alexeenko; Reklaitis; R.P. Kingsly Ambrose, associate professor of agricultural and biological engineering; Marisol Koslowski, professor of mechanical engineering; Zoltan Nagy, professor of chemical engineering; Elizabeth M. (Liz) Topp, professor of industrial and physical pharmacy; Carl Wassgren, professor of mechanical engineering and professor of industrial and physical pharmacy (by courtesy); and Qi (Tony) Zhou, assistant professor of industrial and physical pharmacy.

A course offered in Spring 2019, Principles of Pharmaceutical Engineering, was the first step in this third seed project. It is taught by project professors, and featured guest speakers from Purdue, industry and government. The aim of the course, Reklaitis says, is to provide students and faculty with a big-picture view of the pharmaceutical industry and its technical, business and regulatory challenges, in an effort to set the stage for further courses, a few of which already are offered in various academic units. The team is planning additional courses for on-campus students, as well as professionals who might want to work in the industry or update their skills.

Photo At Top:

Eric L. Baker

“The partnership between engineering and pharmaceutical sciences represents a tremendous strength of Purdue. Faculty in the two colleges have a rich history of collaborating to solve some of the greatest challenges facing drug discovery and development. The rapidly growing number of complex therapies have created new opportunities for our scientists to work together with the pharmaceutical industry to discover innovative solutions that enable life-saving medications to come to market in a more efficient and cost-effective manner.”

Eric L. Baker, PhD, Dean and Professor, College of Pharmacy