To Make Drugs, Just Add Water and Stir?

It sounds like the simple instructions for making Ramen or hot chocolate. A new appliance-looking device could be mass producing drugs in a similar fashion in the near future.

When hooked up to some test tubes, chemists have used the Freezemobile to make a ring of crystalline ice ready for transport to the most remote developing countries. Sure, it is easy to send a blister pack of pills, but some medicine and vaccines must be kept frozen or below a certain cool temperature or they will lose their potency.

Researchers from Harvard, MIT, and University of Toronto have recently published a solution. Instead of trying to keep drugs cooled for long-distance transport, they will give people the ingredients that don’t require refrigeration. To activate the ingredients, just add water.

Biologics are made from living cells that can be destroyed by freezing or warm temperatures. The researchers extracted the cells’ insides by using a supersonic vibrating needle, then used a centrifuge to separate out the protein production molecules. This powder is mixed with fuel and preservative and put in to the Freezemobile. The result is a crystalized ice which looks like cotton candy. This can be shipped anywhere. Then the recipients would add a pinch of freeze-dried DNA and sterile water to begin the chemical reaction, making the desired protein. The cell is no longer living, but all the internal components are still there.

This research project was partly funded by the U.S. Department of Defense. The new technology could allow soldiers to carry a variety of drug ingredients into the field for all kinds of medical needs. Rather than stockpiling lots of vaccines and medications, the machinery to make them could be stockpiled, saving money and adding convenience.

The research team tested four categories of biologics including diphtheria vaccine, antimicrobial peptide, and bacteria-fighting antibody. This new device is not going to solve vaccine and medication shortages all at once. It will probably be at least another decade before freeze-dried materials will be available. They will need facilities, knowledge, and people to run the machines.
Boodman, Eric. “Freeze-dried drug factories could make a slew of medicines — just add water.” In the Lab. STAT, 22 Sep 2016. Web. 25 Sep 2016.

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