Scholars Gain Insight Into Pharmaceutical Industry

10 September 2019

What a better way to start the day than with a bit of friendly competition between the group of fellow Arkwright chemical engineering enthusiasts! This was just the beginning of a range of exciting team-work activities from virtual chemical reactor handling to tracking the stages of the processes of making sugar and aspirin. However, we started by exploring the drug development process to set the scene for our day at AstraZeneca’s second largest manufacturing and operations site.

Having an insight into the global pharmaceutical company was fascinating as we explored the site; looking at the laboratories where newly synthesised molecules were tested on their thermal properties, pressure limits and explosive nature. This included a surprisingly thrilling demonstration, with custard powder and acetone, of how seemingly normal reactants can have explosive effects if under the right reaction conditions! Making it even more important to recognise these properties of drug reactants and to deal with them accordingly by design of appropriate reaction vessels and systems; prior to the reaction being translated to industrial scale manufacture in larger vessels where the risk of danger is greater. This was followed by a tour of the final stages of drug making where tablets were pressed, and formulations were tested in sterile conditions.

My favourite aspect of the day was learning about how AstraZeneca improves its current drugs, this was demonstrated by an experiment crystallising a particular API and using a laser to produce an image of the crystals formed in order to see if they were getting larger, as intended. This really highlighted, for me, the ingenuity and technology being utilised in the modern-day drug development process to continuously advance products.

The day was a fantastic opportunity to see how the work of chemical engineers is benefiting all facets of pharmaceutical companies, from improving atom economy and yields of essential drugs to optimising reaction systems and plants. 

Following the day, I feel more inspired to go into a career in chemical engineering in the pharmaceutical industry, knowing that the impact of the work you do is improving the lives of people by delivering life-changing medicines.