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Novartis tests low-volume factory for pharmaceuticals

In future pharmaceuticals could be manufactured in small factories that combine all the work steps from the raw material to pill production in one room. Novartis is testing the new method in Basel. It saves time and enables the development of new medicines.

Drugs are now manufactured in large factories using the global division of labour. This is efficient, but takes a lot of time. As the “Neue Zürcher Zeitung” writes in an article, Novartis is now testing a new method for manufacturing its pharmaceuticals. In continuous manufacturing, the work steps are combined in a single room with interconnected equipment, from purification of the raw material to the tablet press.

Novartis’s only test factory to date is on the company’s Basel campus. The whole production area covers 300 m². 100 m² is used for the manufacture of chemicals and 50 m² for the actual tablet production. Production is now completely digitalised. According to an article by Novartis, the concentration in a confined space has the potential to cut drug manufacturing time by 90% and drug manufacturing costs by 30-50%.

At the same time, the low-volume production also enables the manufacture of new medicines. Previously the range of producible substances was limited by the capability of the large factories to process large quantities of certain chemicals. “Continuous flow techniques give you access to chemical reactions that are highly dangerous in the batch world,” says Markus Krumme, Head of the Continuous Manufacturing unit at Novartis.“ In the long run, we believe this expanded chemical space will give chemists a chance to find compounds that would have been very difficult to find before.”

The capacity of the test factory will be sufficient to produce 100 million to 200 million tablets a year. This would be enough to meet the annual demand for one to three medical drugs.

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