Process development: challenges and insights

Combining international expertise of value to both industry and academia, SCI’s 27th Process Development Symposium had something for everyone

How do industries translate laboratory-scale synthetic chemistry into commercial manufacturing processes? The answer lies within process development. This extremely broad discipline begins with the application of chemistry to the scale-up of new synthetic processes from the laboratory, and goes through to testing at a pilot plant and into full-scale commercial manufacture, before it plays a role in product life-cycle management. In so doing, process development crosses the boundaries between synthetic organic chemistry, process technology and chemical engineering.

The techniques used for formulating new synthetic processes incorporate a wide range of chemical methodology. These methodologies have been optimised in order to ensure the development of robust and efficient synthetic processes. Using them requires a detailed understanding of the process mechanisms and rates of reaction, defined through the use of thorough analytical techniques. To add to this complex procedure, knowledge of the parameters of the available technology for scaling-up these processes is also essential.

Process development remains a challenging area, central to research conducted into modern synthetic organic chemistry, its applications, and into other enabling technologies.

On 9-11 December 2009, Churchill College, Cambridge hosted the 27th SCI Process Development Symposium. Organised by SCI’s Fine Chemicals Group, the event symposium aimed to bring together a wide range of speakers from across the pharmaceutical, agrochemical and fine chemical industries, as well as from an academic background.

At the Symposium, the most current process development issues were presented by speakers from across the industry. The 2009 event had a truly international flavour, with several speakers from the US and across Europe supplementing the UK-based presenters.

A number of presentations covered case histories of the development of important industrial processes, highlighting the elegant and practical chemistry which is required to take a development product to the stage of routine manufacture. Alongside these, emerging technologies available to development chemists were presented in detail, again with the emphasis on the practical use of such methodologies.

There were also contributions from academia, giving industrial chemists an insight into new reactions, which are amenable to scale-up. Overall, topics includeed nine case studies from the pharmaceutical and agrochemical industries, microwave-assisted chemistry, purification methods using scavengers and membranes, flow chemistry, new uses for NMR, laboratory automation and spray drying. Each year, GlaxoSmithKline, AstraZeneca and Pfizer sponsor a prize for academic Process Chemistry Research to be presented at the symposium. The 2009 prize-winner is Professor Varinder Aggarwal from the University of Bristol. Professor Aggarwal presented the excellent work he conducted.

To encourage future generations of process chemists, fifteen PhD students also received travel bursaries from GlaxoSmithKline, AstraZeneca and Pfizer to help enable them to attend the Symposium. Previous bursary holders have invariably found the experience highly enjoyable and educational. The Process Development Symposium also attracts a number of relevant exhibitors. The exhibitions displayed the latest in laboratory tools for process chemists, reflecting the recent upsurge in innovative design for heating and cooling units, continuous reactors and controllable lab ware.

Dr John Carey, GlaxoSmithKline and SCI Fine Chemicals Group Committee

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