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Compact drug synthesizer could revolutionize drug delivery

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Researchers have developed a system the size of a household fridge that can synthesize a variety of pharmaceuticals in short periods of time, including an antihistamine, an antidepressant, a common local anesthetic, and a central nervous system depressant. Pharmaceutical manufacturing often requires multiple compounds and steps of synthesis at different sites, making the production process slow, inefficient and cumbersome. This disjointed process means that pharmaceuticals are often produced in batches, a main contributing factor to drug shortages. The condensed system developed by Andrea Adamo and colleagues offers continuous production of a drug – from start to finish – over the course of several hours or days, at a quality that meets U.S. Pharmacopeial standards. This advancement holds numerous important implications, such as for drug delivery in the face of disease epidemics or after natural disasters. The system consists of reconfigurable units that can be added or removed depending on the drug being synthesized. As proof of principle, the researchers demonstrate the production of diphenhydramine hydrochloride (common trade name Benadryl®, often used to treat allergies), lidocaine hydrochloride (a common local anesthetic and antiarrhythmic drug), diazepam (commonly known as Valium®), and fluoxetine hydrochloride (a widely used antidepressant, e.g. Prozac®). The synthesizer was able to produce 4500, 810, 3000 and 1100 doses per day, respectively. Switching production from the simplest to the most complex drug took two hours. The system currently only produces liquid forms of drugs, but the authors note that new approaches, such as three-dimensional printing, could facilitate on-the-spot production of pharmaceuticals in pill form. A Perspective by Rainer Martin discusses this development in more detail, highlighting the scientific advantages that the system has by harnessing flow processes.

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