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Americas: Purdue, experts to modernize process for preserving food

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Vials used in lyophilization, a process used in making a wide range of products and life-saving drugs. (Purdue University image/Erin Easterling)

Experts are working to modernize a process that is used in making products, from freeze-dried space foods to lifesaving wonder drugs.

The process, called lyophilization, removes water at low temperature and pressure.

Lyophilization is needed for products that would be damaged if they were dried by heating, but it can be slow, energy-intensive and expensive.

A new 10-year road map to identify the improvements that are needed in lyophilization is being published by the Advanced Lyophilization Technology Hub, or LyoHUB, at Purdue University.

One needed improvement is the introduction of disruptive new technologies that would dramatically increase the efficiency of lyophilization, said Elizabeth Topp, a professor in Purdue’s Department of Industrial and Physical Pharmacy who co-leads the consortium with Alina Alexeenko, a professor in the School of Aeronautics and Astronautics.

Lyophilization was developed during World War II to preserve blood products and penicillin.

While there have been significant advances since that time, the fundamental lyophilization process has not changed.

Disruptive new approaches to low temperature drying could improve manufacturing efficiency and reduce costs.

“Ultimately, we’d like to help bring about high-quality, lower cost, more readily available pharmaceuticals and food products that are made with lyophilization or related new technologies,” Topp said.

“The Lyophilization Technology Roadmap presents the collective view of trends, drivers and technology development opportunities of over 100 industrial, academic and government experts working in this area.”

The LyoHUB leadership team also includes Michael Pikal, a professor of pharmaceutics at the University of Connecticut; and Steve Nail, senior research scientist at Baxter Biopharma Solutions.

They provided leadership in producing the road map with Steve Shade, MD of Purdue’s Center for Advanced Manufacturing, and more than 100 experts from the US.

The road map identifies key factors driving change, gaps in technology that require research solutions, industry needs, educational roles and regulatory issues impacting the field over the next decade.

It was developed with input from the pharmaceutical and foods industries, lyophilization equipment and instrumentation manufacturers, related industries, academia and government agencies.

Instead of the current batch method, researchers envision a system that runs continuously, where raw materials are fed into one end and finished products roll out of the other end. Such an innovation would lead to dramatic improvements in efficiency.