A lot of attention has been directed towards vaccine stability as the COVID-19 pandemic highlighted the weaknesses of traditional supply chain approaches. A quick glance at our technology section will reveal just a few of the efforts to come up with solutions. However, a team at Purdue University have been working on this for a while. Using “rocket science” to advance a freeze-drying technology, the team hopes to lengthen product shelf life. With an award of almost $1 million the researchers will use microwaves to cut down on costs and timelines.  

Technology for access 

Project leader, Professor Alina Alexeenjo, Senior Associate Dean for Undergraduate Education and Academic Programmes and Professor of Aeronautics and Astronautics and Chemical Engineering, wants to “push the technology further”. She’s hoping that “lifesaving treatments” can “easily reach every corner of the world”. The technique of lyophilisation requires conditions “like those in outer space – it is a cold vacuum”.  

“We approach innovations in lyophilisation equipment design and process the same way teams approach new spacecraft design.”  

In this instance, they have used microwaves to overcome the environmental challenges. As standard freeze-drying is very expensive, this technology could have an instant effect on cost, and therefore be implemented sooner. Professor Alexeenko’s start-up LyoWave is supporting Purdue Innovates Office of Technology Commercialisation to take the technology from concept to the marketplace. Purdue Innovates Senior Vice President Dr Brooke Beier is pleased at “yet another example of Purdue innovation that can make an impact”.  

“Purdue Innovates is focused on results: transforming research into intellectual property that can be licensed to start-ups and industries and, finally, products that can save lives.”  
Partners and industry interest 

Purdue reports that Merck and IMA Life North America Inc. have partnered on this project, funded by the National Institute for Innovation in Manufacturing Biopharmaceuticals (NIIMBL). Merck provides vaccine samples and leads development of benchmarks to compare conventional approaches with the innovative techniques. IMA Life will lead integration of the new technology with the manufacturing process for sterile pharmaceuticals and vaccines.  

Ernesto Renzi, president of sales and marketing and IMA Life, sees potential in the team’s work. 

“This microwave technology promises to not only provide uniformity to the drug product but also accelerate the freeze-drying process.”  

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