Producing drugs is usually a time-consuming process that requires several large factories each handling a different step in the process. But for smaller on-demand batches, MIT has developed a portable pharmacy that’s only about the size of a commercial-grade fridge and promises much faster turnarounds.
The new device isn’t designed to be a replacement for mega factories that can produce large amounts of a drug at a very low price point. Instead, MIT envisions it being used for emergency situations where a very specific medication is quickly needed to help contain an outbreak of a rare disease, or when power outages threaten the supply and production of a specific drug.
Ironically, the compact size of the fridge-sized factory enables it to turn out drugs at a faster pace. It’s actually easier to generate and precisely control the the high-pressures or extreme temperatures needed to synthesize some drugs when the batches are smaller. But the DARPA-funded “pharmacy on demand” is still able to produce 1,000 doses of one of four different drugs—Benadryl, lidocaine, Valium, and Prozac—in just 24 hours.
The machine still needs access to the proper ingredients in order to produce a given drug, and it takes about an hour to reconfigure the first step of the process to accommodate the different medications it can create. But it can be packed up into a shipping crate and sent anywhere in the world to provide instant medical support during a crisis.