The University of Strathclyde is leading a new manufacturing hub that pioneers the use of advanced technologies like robotics and AI for the sustainable production of medicines.

The MediForge Hub, led by CMAC – a world-leading medicines manufacturing research centre – aims to transform the development and manufacturing process by achieving a 60% reduction in raw material use and the reduction of waste.

The University is also a partner in the Manufacturing Research Hub in Resource-Enabled Sustainable Circular Automation Manufacturing (RESCu-M). Led by the University of Birmingham, the hub aims to use advances in AI, robotics and intelligent automation to create a new sustainable circular manufacturing ecosystem across sectors such as batteries, energy and medical devices.

Medicine production

The hubs are among five supported by the UKRI Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC) ‘Manufacturing research hubs for a sustainable future’ programme, with each receiving £11M. Partner contributions, cash and in-kind, bring the total support committed to the new hubs to just short of £100M.

Working with industry partners, the researchers will also explore different products’ pathways to manufacture, including production scale-up and integration within the wider industrial system.

Co-designed with industry, the MediForge programme will create a unique cyber-physical research infrastructure to drive the digital transformation of Chemistry, Manufacture and Control (CMC) approaches.

Artificial intelligence, machine learning, digital twins, and collaborative robotics together with state-of-the-art process technologies, will support all stages of medicine production.

Digital solutions

CMC is a key element in ensuring medicines are safe and of consistent high quality, but traditional approaches can be inefficient and costly. By developing digital solutions, MediForge will tackle some of the challenges faced by pharmaceutical manufacturers.

Accelerating the development of new, sustainable products and processes mean the sector will be better able to respond to the needs of patients by producing medicines faster, while addressing rising healthcare costs, medicines shortages from fragile global supply chains, and the impacts of the climate crisis.

The seven-year award is in collaboration with the University of Leeds, Imperial College London, the University of Sheffield, and Glasgow School of Art.

Professor Alastair Florence, MediForge Project Lead and Director of CMAC, said:

“MediForge represents a significant step towards creating the technologies, know-how and future leaders to deliver access to affordable, safe, and sustainable medicines. “

“The team are committed to developing innovative solutions that can accelerate patient access to cost-effective new treatments, that can allow more agile responses to medicines shortages or pandemics and, though addressing sustainability at each stage, we can ensure that making medicines does not cost the Earth.

“With its commitment to excellence and innovation, CMAC’s MediForge initiative will transform the landscape of medicine manufacturing, paving the way for a healthier, sustainable, and more resilient future.”

Professor Winifred Ijomah of the Department of Design, Manufacturing and Engineering Management, and the Strathclyde Lead for the RESCu-M project, said:

“The RESCU-M hub provides a huge opportunity to advance net zero by optimising value retention processes such as remanufacturing, repair and recycling. “

Professor Sir Jim McDonald, Vice-Chancellor & Principal of the University of Strathclyde, said:

“At Strathclyde we are committed to seeking sustainable answers to global challenges and the work of these two pioneering Hubs, one of which we are leading, is testament to that.

“The Hubs will be informed by basic research and we will bring our recognised leading approach to translating research outputs to industry applicable solutions.”

Alan Mak, Minister for Industry and Economic Security, said:

“Thanks to our Advanced Manufacturing Plan, we’re helping businesses take advantage of the twin transitions of digitalisation and net zero, along with tax cuts, faster grid connections and more, helping grow the green industries of the future.

“This investment will help keep the UK at the cutting edge of research in key sectors like semiconductors and medicine and help secure a sustainable future for our innovative manufacturing industry.”

Sustainable production

UK Government Minister for Scotland, Donald Cameron, said: “Scotland has always been at the forefront of science, innovation and technology and this new £11 million funding from the UK Government, through UKRI, will help maintain this. This is an exciting time for this sector as we look to harness AI in helping the sustainable production of medicines and reducing waste.”

EPSRC Executive Chair Professor Charlotte Deane said: “With their focus on innovation and sustainability the advances made by the hubs will benefit specific sectors, the wider manufacturing sector and economy, as well the environment.”