The key to this approach is process intensification. Continuous processing can use more direct and higher-yield reaction pathways to produce the same drug. This is because smaller-scale reactors have a higher surface-area-to-volume ratio and reduce transport distances so more energy can be put into the reaction, making previously unviable drugs feasible on a commercial scale.
Having equipment that’s more than ten times smaller means that you only need one room for a process that used to require an entire facility. It also reduces both capital outlay and running costs while increasing sustainability due to the reduction in heating and cooling.
The plant required for continuous processing is not just small, it can also be modular. This makes it a lot more agile. Switching production to a new product can be done within a matter of weeks whereas with a traditional batch process, it could even prove unviable to reconfigure a large plant.
Modularity also makes it easier to produce more products from a single facility using a plug-and-play approach with different modules. This means reconfiguring your plant can be as simple as plugging in different connections to each module. And that facility could even be the size of a warehouse – you don’t need a huge manufacturing site to house this process. This means that the plant can be nearer to a customer or a transport hub.
A flexible, modular approach supports the pharma industry’s trend towards more complex, higher value drugs with a shorter production life. The higher level of automation and monitoring incorporated into these facilities fits well with the Industry 4.0 approach and a more data-rich method of manufacturing that increases efficiency and productivity.
At WSP we are excited about the potential for continuous processing and are working with clients on modular continuous plants. Together, we are tackling challenges to take this technology from the pilot scale to commercial scale and overcoming hurdles such as how continuous processing can be incorporated with existing manufacturing capability and legacy equipment. We are confident that continuous processing will become an important part of the pharmaceutical industry’s future.
Watch our full animation below on our approach to design.