A team of scientists from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology has managed to develop a portable device that can produce biologic drugs on demand. It allows doctors who are working in developing parts of the world or in remote areas to easily create medication that otherwise may be unavailable.
The research project received funding from the U.S. Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA). The completion of the device, along with a detailed description of how it works was published in the journal Nature Communications. The device was previously announced in March of this year.
Producing biopharmaceuticals or biologics, drugs which have a biological and not a chemical source, is quite expensive because of the complexity of the process, the infrastructure and the time it requires.
According to the researchers:
“Currently, manufacturing of biologic drugs in the biopharmaceutical industry relies heavily on large-scale fermentation batches that are frequently monitored offline, to ensure a robust process and consistent quality of the product.”
The development of the drug-producing portable device came in response to a need for rapid, flexible and scalable manufacturing system that still offers a safe and consistent production of biologics. The device has a number of significant applications such as preventing the spreading of a disease in a remote village, or for immediate care on the battlefield and other emergency situations where drugs are not readily available.
Although the device is relatively expensive, its nowhere near the costs of large-scale systems. The portable device can produce drugs from a programmable strain of yeast, Pichia pastoris, which can grow to high densities on simple carbon sources. This allows doctors to use it for various needs, be it drugs or vaccines.
That particular type of yeast is used in drug production because of its ability to ‘express one of two therapeutic proteins when exposed to a particular chemical trigger.’ The yeast is located in a micro-bioreactor with a micro-fluidic chip inside it. When a liquid with a specific chemical trigger is released into the reactor, it mixes with the yeast. A gas permeable silicone rubber is used for pressure and to start the mixing process whilst oxygen is absorbed by the cells and carbon dioxide is released. If a new protein is needed, the liquid around the yeast is filtered and flushed out.
The scientists are currently attempting use the device to develop new treatments by combining multiple therapeutics, such as antibodies.
Image source: MIT