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Several drugmakers have been flirting with continuous process manufacturing, but none have fully engaged with the idea. GlaxoSmithKline has been working on the new technology for 5 or 6 years and is now ready to make a serious commitment to a method that requires radically smaller plants and, further, promises radically lower operating costs.
A GlaxoSmithKline ($GSK) plant in Singapore, where the company is investing up to $50 million, will be the first in which the new technology is tried, CEO Andrew Witty recently told shareholders. “This is going to lead I think to a really significant technology leap for the company,” he said, during the same earnings call in which he said costs in Europe must be trimmed. Witty said it will mean a “shift from synthetic chemical reaction to enzymatic reactions, and a whole reframing of how we do analytical testing in all of our facilities. The net-net of all of that is a very significant reduction in process time, very significant reduction in cost, carbon footprint inventory and speed.”
With the new technology, a plant of only about 100 square meters is required, compared to the 900-square-meter facilities needed for current methods, he said. “So you are talking about a massive reduction in capital deployment and space occupancy obviously, you will see something like a 50% reduction in carbon footprint insolvent use up to a 50% reduction in cost,” he said. And this will not be a rarity, Witty said. He went on to explain that between a third and half of the company’s current portfolio of drugs could be made using continuous processing.
Genzyme, the biotech subsidiary of Sanofi ($SNY), is also experimenting with continuous processing but has to decide whether it will move to a method that does not have an existing infrastructure of suppliers to support it. Other companies are also giving it a look. In fact, much of the research into the method had been done at the Novartis-MIT Center for Continuous Manufacturing, which was born of a $65 million collaboration between the university and the Swiss drugmaker.