Novartis and MIT Unite To Find New Techniques For Drug Manufacturing

Novartis and MIT signed the first contract of a 10-year corporate partnership on June 1, creating the Novartis-MIT Center for Continuous Manufacturing. The center was created to improve manufacturing techniques in the pharmaceutical industry.

Novartis will invest an anticipated $65 million over the next 10 years in this partnership.

The partnership will involve seven MIT professors and 20­­–30 student and postdoctoral positions, according to Chemical Engineering Associate Professor Bernhardt L. Trout ’90, who is running the program at MIT.

Partnerships with universities are very common in the pharmaceutical industry because new technologies and innovations are essential for success, said Walter Bisson, the project manager at Novartis. Such partnerships arise when projects in research, development, or manufacturing present definite needs that cannot be met by expertise within the corporation itself.

“These partnerships are based on a win-win premise, where both parties stand to gain from the interactions,” Bisson said. In finding suitable partners to work with, factors including previous interactions, costs, likelihood of project success, and alignment of goals.

The goal of the Novartis-MIT partnership is to develop new technologies that will allow pharmaceutical companies to change from the current batch manufacturing method to a continuous manufacturing process, Trout said.

“The continuous manufacturing will transform the way we develop and manufacture pharmaceuticals,” Bisson said. The new process could help to reduce cycle times and improve quality “across the entire manufacturing chain from drug substance to final product.”

Other advantages of continuous manufacturing are a reduction in equipment, energy, and raw materials used, improved environmental impact, less safety risk to operators, and a decrease in waste, Bisson said.

Novartis, which has had successful past partnerships with the Institute, chose MIT for this partnership for a number of reasons, Bisson said, including MIT’s reputation in science and technology, history of innovation in areas of pharmaceutical manufacturing, and network of experts in academia and industry.

MIT has “developed various new approaches to developing continuous units, but like Novartis, had not hitherto taken this broad, integrated approach,” Bisson said.

The partnership between Novartis and MIT stands apart from most others in pharmaceutical manufacturing “due to the size of the program, investment level, length of time and expected impact,” Bisson said. Trout said that the planning for this partnership began over a year ago.

Trout said that the primary research focus for the new center will be on small molecule drugs. Work now would focus on planning the research, obtaining initial results, and trying to interpret them.

Each individual project may take three to four years since the research will be primarily carried out through postdoctoral programs.

According to Trout, the biggest challenge for the partnership is doing something different in an industry that is conservative in its use of manufacturing techniques because of strict regulations.

Although the current focus is on small molecules, the partnership will move toward biomolecules in the future after the transition from batch to continuous manufacturing has been achieved, Trout said.