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Pfizer's £10m manufacturing investment at Sandwich to speed development of breakthrough medicines

Around 85 per cent of Pfizer's small molecule products pass through Sandwich on their journey to market. The work of the Pfizer team in Kent helps millions of patients globally. And it is at Sandwich where Pfizer is making a significant £10 million investment in an advance manufacturing technology that will considerably speed up the development of new breakthrough medicines.

The COVID-19 pandemic has highlighted the need to create new vaccines and medicines at pace and scale. But this comes with a number of challenges. Chief among these is how to scale up production through the clinical trial process and on to commercial supplies. Identifying a possible medicine is only one part of the battle. The ability to mass produce a high-quality new medicine and get it to the patients who need it is what turns theory into reality. 

At Sandwich, Pfizer is investing in a Portable Continuous Manufacturing Module (PCMM) to rapidly develop tablets for clinical trials around the world. Using a traditional manufacturing process, Pfizer would typically start by producing batches of a few thousand tablets at a time. But, as clinical trials progress, more supplies are required. If Pfizer need to scale up to say hundreds of thousands of tablets, they would have to run the same manufacturing process many many times. With the PCMM technology, you run the module for an hour to make a few thousand tablets, many hours for hundreds of thousands - or just keep going if millions of tablets are required for ready-for-market volumes. This means Pfizer can rapidly scale up and transfer the knowledge to its commercial manufacturing groups in other worldwide sites who have the same technology. This streamlined process will help potential medicines progress through clinical trials faster, ultimately bringing life-changing treatments to patients sooner.

That's why Pfizer is putting this newfound knowledge to good use already. As the head of its Sandwich site, Julian Thompson said, partnerships are critical to unlocking medical breakthroughs – whether treatments for patients in urgent need, preventative vaccines, or to build our understanding of diseases so we can prepare for the future. That's true for the fight against COVID-19 – where Pfizer is immensely proud of its collaboration with BioNTech. And it is equally true for other treatments.

It's in that spirit that Pfizer recently joined the Medicines Manufacturing Innovation Centre project. A collaboration between the Centre for Process Innovation (CPI), the University of Strathclyde and industry partners GSK and AstraZeneca, with funding provided by Scottish Enterprise and UK Research and Innovation, the Centre sets "grand challenges" aimed at advancing new technology and patient outcomes in the pharmaceutical industry.

The big idea is to speed up the manufacture of medicines. And that's where the predictive science and digital “twin” will help Pfizer. Working on both physical and virtual production side by side improves efficiency by cutting down the amount of  materials needed and time it takes to develop each formulae. Eventually, this could enable Pfizer and other companies to develop these formulae more quickly and cheaply – with massive benefit to patients. In fact, Pfizer estimates that 70% of its small molecule, solid oral dose medicines will be manufactured on PCMM by 2029.

COVID-19 has emphasised how essential it is to be able to scale up new treatments at pace. Shortening treatment manufacturing processes and reducing process variability are key factors in enabling clinical trials to progress at pace and could drastically speed up the delivery of life-changing treatments to patients around the world.

Posted on 20/04/2021