GSK, Pfizer help start effort researching manufacturing innovations

Most drugs are manufactured using age-old processes that work just fine but leave little room for the kinds of manufacturing innovation that can lead to deep cost cuts or leaps in productivity. But with price pressures around the world pushing down growth potential, some drugmakers are looking for breakthrough manufacturing processes to help them cut costs, along with their environmental impact, and give them increased flexibility. Units of Pfizer ($PFE) and GlaxoSmithKline ($GSK) are signing on to a new operation in Singapore to explore that realm.

Pfizer Asia Pacific and Glaxo Wellcome Manufacturing have joined Siemens as founding members of something called A*STAR R&D Consortium Programme - Innovative Processing of Specialties and Pharmaceuticals (iPSP). It was created by the Institute of Chemical and Engineering Sciences (ICES) in Singapore. The ICES is a member of the Agency for Science, Technology and Research, known as A*STAR. That operation was set up to build the country's strength in engineering and look for innovative manufacturing processes.

"At a time when companies in the pharmaceutical industry are challenged on speed in new product development, manufacturing process innovation, consistency in product quality, regulatory conformance and environmental sustainability, an integrative approach to the application of cutting edge technologies will be crucial to future success," said Lim Hock Heng, managing director of GSK's pharmaceutical manufacturing sites in Singapore. "The launch of iPSP is very timely."

There are other institutions doing research on manufacturing, and GlaxoSmithKline has been in the midst of some of that research as well. CEO Andrew Witty in February told shareholders that the company will spend $50 million to institute continuous processing at an amoxicillin antibiotic manufacturing plant in Singapore. The technology, which uses enzymatic reactions instead of synthetic chemical reactions, has been researched at the Novartis-MIT Center for Continuous Manufacturing at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Other companies have been working with the process, which requires radically smaller plants and promises substantially lower operating costs. GlaxoSmithKline has been working on the new technology for 5 or 6 years.

- here's the release