Issue Date: July 16, 2012
Bringing Materials Science To Pharma
By paying insufficient attention to the physical, solid-state properties of drug compounds, the pharmaceutical industry has missed opportunities for new drugs and imposed untold costs on itself, according to a group of industry leaders. Drug companies can better carry out their core duty—creating new medicines—by drawing more rigorously on materials science and engineering and translating this fundamental science into pharmaceutical development, they say.
To promote this goal, the group launched the M3 conference, named for “Molecules, Materials, Medicines.” The third M3 meeting took place on May 19–22 in Banff, Alberta.
The group includes Örn Almarsson and Magali Hickey of Alkermes, Patrick Connelly and Michael (Mick) Hurrey of Vertex Pharmaceuticals, Drazen Ostovic of KO Pharm R&D, Matt Peterson of Amgen, and Elizabeth B. Vadas of InSciTech.
For years, they advocated for earlier and more rigorous application of solid-state materials science in pharmaceutical R&D. They argued, both in their own workplaces and at industry gatherings, that materials science could help prevent costly disasters in manufacturing (Nat. Chem., DOI: 10.1038/nchem.1121; Science, DOI: 10.1126/science.333.6039.156-b), enable more discovery assets to be developed than would make it to market otherwise (Nat. Rev. Drug Discovery, DOI: 10.1038/nrd1550), and allow more deliberate, rational drug design. For instance, analyzing the crystal structures of drug substances makes it possible to develop crystallization processes that allow precise control of particle size and morphology, which affect drug performance.
However, in all of these areas, opportunities to share knowledge and best practices were rare. For this reason, the group decided to host a conference that would gather the field’s leading lights for an intensive focus on solid-state chemistry in the drug industry, defining and potentially advancing the state of the art.
The first M3 conference took place in 2007 in Reykjavik, Iceland, and the second one was held in 2009 in Santa Barbara, Calif. By 2012, the organizers thought that a third M3 conference was in order.
No one doubted that the meeting would be useful, but for the organizers, it was an uphill trek. As a group of individuals, they were operating outside any infrastructure. They had no institutional tax-exempt status or economy of scale, and their opportunities to communicate with potential attendees, speakers, and others were limited to what they could manage themselves.
This is why, for the benefit of both groups, the M3 organizers partnered with the ACS Division of Business Development & Management (BMGT). This collaboration put BMGT’s publicity and communications systems at their disposal. The division, meanwhile, had compelling reasons to work with M3. The conference was aimed at senior and management-level scientists—a demographic that could stand to gain from getting involved with BMGT. In addition, the M3-BMGT partnership was able to serve as a proof of concept. BMGT was able to test whether it could help put on a small, specialized, highly targeted conference that would generate important scientific insights while covering its costs.
At this point a number of sponsors came on board—notably Amgen, Patheon, Vertex, and Xcelience, in addition to Agilent Technologies, Alkermes, Bend Research, Crystal Pharmatech, Hovione, Johnson Matthey Pharma Services, and Merck & Co.
Then in May of this year, the attendees gathered at the Banff Centre. The conference opened with events intended to get the attendees’ creative juices flowing. A keynote address that was deliberately outside most of their specialties—a talk on ionic liquids by Robin D. Rogers of the University of Alabama—was designed to bring the participants beyond their intellectual comfort zones.
The next two days of the conference focused on the science that everyone had come to talk about. A panel on amorphous pharmaceutical materials included George Zografi of the University of Wisconsin, Madison. Konstantin Borisenko of the University of Oxford, well-known in the field of inorganic materials science, joined this panel as well; his cross-disciplinary perspective was fitting for the spirit of the meeting.
That panel preceded one on the uses of crystallography in drug development that included Michael F. Doherty of the University of California, Santa Barbara. A session on the uses, development, and scale-up of cocrystals followed, featuring Mike Zaworotko of the University of South Florida. The conference also covered the state of the art in materials characterizations and included scientific presentations by service providers.
Feedback was overwhelmingly positive. Attendees enjoyed the interactive nature of a small conference, had thought-provoking conversations, made important connections, and stayed engaged. Many expressed the opinion that M3 should occur on a regular basis every two to three years, keeping the same focused and interactive format.
The conference was a success from a management perspective as well: It finished with a slight profit, so it was able to cover administrative costs and set aside seed money for a future M3 conference. In light of the outcome, BMGT says it is eager to pursue this kind of partnership again in the future. By providing a forum for in-depth, rigorous science coupled with practical industrial chemistry, the M3 conference fulfilled the ACS division’s mission of creating value while advancing science.
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