Nephron Pharmaceuticals Corporation has joined forces with the University of South Carolina College of Engineering and Computing to design and implement an automation process that significantly boosts production of pre-filled medication, reducing the physical burden on workers and increasing patient safety.
Traditionally, pre-filled syringes are filled by hand in clean-room environments. In recent years, federal regulations governing sterile compounding have become more stringent and complex as a result of accidental contaminations. The use of robots to compound prescription products exceeds those new federal guidelines and provides a more sterile environment with better accuracy and precision than traditional methods of compounding.
The research collaboration with Nephron will position UofSC to develop state-of-the-art sterile compounding methods benefiting hospitals throughout South Carolina and the nation.
“Demand for pre-filled medication has exploded in recent years, and our company is responding to the market needs for affordable and accessible life-saving medications in pre-filled syringes,” said Nephron CEO Lou Kennedy. “We are excited to partner with innovative students and leading researchers from Engineering and Pharmacy at the University of South Carolina to meet the demands of hospitals and patients, and we look forward to working together for years to come.”
To help Nephron meet the market demand, the College of Engineering and Computing and the College of Pharmacy have finalized plans to build a fully functional sterile compounding lab at the McNAIR Aerospace Center. This fully functional, first-of-its-kind compounding suite will offer students the opportunity to learn and develop the techniques of sterile, robotic manufacturing processes for human drug compounding.
Between the College of Engineering and Computing and the College of Pharmacy, well over a dozen undergraduate, graduate and doctoral students are involved in the project. Utilizing a state-of-the-art robot from UofSC corporate partner Yaskawa-Motoman Robotics, as well as Process Simulate – a Siemens software package included in its $628 million gift to McNAIR Center and to the College of Engineering and Computing in 2017 – these students are learning skills that will immediately translate to increased job opportunities upon graduation.
“This team is a unique collection of talents, not just from Engineering but with advisors from the College of Pharmacy and partners from Office of Economic Engagement as well,” said Ramy Harik of the McNAIR Aerospace Center, who leads the project design team. “By bringing together a cross-disciplinary team, and constantly seeking feedback from Nephron engineers and pharmacists, our students are building a real-life application that, when completed, will be implemented in production. Particularly for our undergraduate students, this type of impactful research experience is invaluable.”
The Nephron project is a continuation of an ongoing university partnership with the company. When Nephron Pharmaceuticals Corporation opened its manufacturing campus in West Columbia in 2015, proximity to the flagship research university was an important factor. Owned and operated by UofSC alumni Lou (’84) and Bill (’66) Kennedy, whose $30 million endowment created The Kennedy Pharmacy Innovation Center (KPIC) in the College of Pharmacy in 2010, Nephron has found success by meeting the increasing demand for pre-filled medications at medical facilities nationwide.
“Our engagement with industry leaders like Nephron is key to helping our students gain important knowledge and experience while solving real-world problems,” said UofSC President Bob Caslen. “By tapping into our research expertise, our corporate partners can bring innovative products to market, which grows their businesses and the state’s economy. That ensures more opportunity for all South Carolinians and furthers our university system’s mission of service.”
Nephron is a certified woman-owned business and one of the fastest-growing pharmaceutical companies in the country. In 2017, they added a $12.5 million, 36,000 square foot expansion to its manufacturing facility so that they would be strategic in meeting the U.S. drug shortages. By partnering with UofSC students and researchers, Nephron seeks to fully automate parts of the syringe-filling process.