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Rex Reklaitis

Burton and Kathryn Gedge Distinguished Professor of Chemical Engineering
Co-director, Pharmaceutical Technology & Education Center
Deputy Director, NSF ERC on Structured Organic Composites

From molecule to marketplace — The race for faster pharmaceuticals

The pharmaceutical industry is slow in bringing new products to market, but chemical engineer Rex Reklaitis and his team have a plan that could cut the development time for new drugs in half.

A half-century ago, it took 15 years for penicillin to move from molecule to mass production. Today’s drugs still average seven years of development.

If Reklaitis and his colleagues have their way however, new drugs could make it through the pharmaceutical pipeline in half the time by using mathematical modeling and prediction tools to develop more efficient manufacturing processes.

Researchers would build “virtual” materials and run computer tests before manufacture, saving millions of dollars and lives compared to a decades-old approach that involves expensive experimentation and time-consuming trial-and-error.

The cost savings would be passed on to consumers — an especially relevant benefit for developing nations. Cheaper drugs could mean more widely available solutions for populations around the world that at current can’t afford drugs to combat such widespread diseases as malaria, tuberculosis and HIV.

As deputy director of the National Science Foundation’s Engineering Research Center (ERC) for Solid Organic Composites, Reklaitis heads up an interdisciplinary team that is dedicated to enhancing the quality and consistency of solid-dosage form pharmaceuticals by augmenting the scientific experimentation with predictive models.

“When I look back at the end of my life, what I would hope is that we dramatically shortened the time to take a new discovery to the patient,” he says. “The big impact would be to have the tools to shorten the time it takes for going from the chemist’s lab to the patient, and that would mean we would be getting the newest medicine to people as quickly as possible.”

Photos by: Andrew Hancock