September 23, 2021

Lights-Out  Pharma Factory: Why The Future Of Pharma Production Is Robotic

Written by:

Zack Bright

Personalized medicine — giving to each patient a therapy that is tailored to her specific needs — holds the promise to improve the lives of millions of people. However, this vision can only be realized if access to advanced personalized therapies is widespread, easy and affordable.

Until now, pharmaceutical manufacturing has been optimized to churn out millions of identical pills — sacrificing precision for scale. For personalized medicine to become a reality, the scale of mass-manufacturing systems must be paired with the ability to tailor each pill to a specific patient’s prescription. At Multiply Labs, we believe that the answer lies in advanced automation.

Today, we’re unveiling the first fully automated, robotic facility that is able to mass-personalize pharmaceutical products.

A robotic factory is the only way to realize pharmaceutical products that combine:
1. Therapy personalization
2. Industrial scale
3. FDA-compliant product safety

Robotics for personalized pharmaceuticals

Since each patient’s prescription is personalized, her capsules must be manufactured separately from the ones destined to other patients. In our robotic factory, each prescription is assigned to a separate capsule tray.

Once a prescription is received by the factory, a robotic arm grabs the corresponding tray and brings it to a filling station. These robots fill the capsules with the drug needed by that patient — in the exact dosage that has been prescribed by her doctor.

After filling, the robotic arm moves the tray into a weighing station. This way, the system verifies that each capsule contains precisely the right dosage strength: no more, no less.

This process is then repeated for each new drug that is present in that patient’s prescription. In the end, the capsules containing the full multi-drug, personalized prescription are ready to be shipped to the patient.

This is software-defined, flexible manufacturing. The robotic factory only needs to receive a digital prescription, and it outputs fully personalized pharma capsules.

Robotics for pharma manufacturing at scale

If prescriptions are personalized, how can full industrial scale be achieved? By simultaneously manufacturing a large number of products. On our production floor, this means having a large throughput of capsule trays.

This is a paradigm shift: from serial manufacturing to parallel manufacturing. Traditional production systems — ever since Ford’s Model T — are invariably serial. They are optimized to churn out identical products as fast as possible. Any change from one product to the next would require re-tooling, clogging the line and reducing throughput.

On the other hand, Multiply Labs’ factory is designed to operate in parallel. All the filling robots and all the quality control robots are operating at the same time. The robotic arm, in the meanwhile, shuttles dozens of trays up and down the production floor, making sure that each capsule is filled with the right drugs.

The manufacturing cell shown in this article can produce 10,000 personalized capsules in an 8-hour shift. A single cell occupies just 128 sq. ft on the production floor. This means that a regular production facility (~10,000 sq. ft) can house 78 cells, for an overall output of 780,000 capsules/shift. This exceeds the output of most traditional manufacturers — while producing unique personalized capsules!

A parallel, fully automated factory architecture is able to produce personalized drugs at scale.

Robots for guaranteed product safety

Each tray in Multiply Labs’ factory has a unique barcode, which is read and tracked by all manufacturing robots. This means that the system follows each capsule of each patient through the factory, ensuring that its quality requirements are always met.

Since the system is fully automated, there are no production errors or oversights: the quality of the products is guaranteed by the reliability of the robots, and each step of the process has a digital record. The robotic factory is so precise and controlled that it can operate with the lights off; robots work just as well in the dark. This leads to an unprecedented level of quality control — and ultimately, product safety.

This is the first demonstration of fully autonomous, lights-out manufacturing in the pharmaceutical space.

The fastest (and only) path to personalized pharmaceutical products is to build the next generation of manufacturing robots. Only a fully automated, robotic factory is able to fulfill the three key requirements of personalized medicine: customization, scale, and safety. We are proud to pioneer this new paradigm in pharma manufacturing, and to be one step closer to bringing personalized therapies to the millions of patients who need them!