Gerard Capellades Mendez defending his PhD

PhD interview: Researching pharmaceutical crystallization

Wednesday 01 Nov 17
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by Frederik Appel Olsen

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Gerard Capellades Mendez
PhD student
DTU Chemical Engineering

DTU Chemical Engineering would not be much of a scientific institution without its many PhD students. We interviewed Gerard Capellades Mendez about new methods and equipment for continuous crystallization of pharmaceuticals.

The many PhD students at DTU Chemical Engineering are a vital part of the scientific life and community of the department. One of them is Gerard Capellades Mendez who defended his PhD thesis ‘Design of Continuous Crystallizers for Production of Active Pharmaceutical Ingredients’ on October 26, 2017.

We asked the newly appointed PhD five questions about his research:


1. What is the essence of your PhD project?
My PhD project dealt with the development of new methods and equipment for continuous crystallization of pharmaceuticals. Pharmaceutical production is typically conducted in campaigns, where the different process steps are conducted at different points in time and the operation heavily relies on the intervention of human operators. In contrast with traditional pharmaceutical production, a continuous manufacturing approach involves the use of automated units that can work for several months without interruptions.
Because of this continued operation, the same production requirements can be attained using smaller equipment. The use of smaller, automated units leads to a significant improvement in the process safety and the reliability of the product quality. At the same time, this transition leads to a considerable reduction in the manufacturing costs. Crystallization is an important unit operation that defines the solid state properties that will determine the stability and the medical performance of the marketed drug. In this area, my project worked with methods for improved control of the solid state properties during continuous pharmaceutical crystallization.


2. What did you discover during your research?
The designed crystallization devices, smaller because of their continuous nature, offer a significant cost reduction over the currently employed batch crystallizers. Furthermore, the design methods developed during the PhD project offer a simultaneous control over crystal size and shape during process development, and simplify the design steps to facilitate the early implementation of new crystallization processes. In the second block of the PhD study, the effect of fluid dynamics on crystal size and shape was investigated using both mechanical mixing and dispersion of a moving gas phase. Results demonstrated the consistency of product quality regardless of small changes in the system fluid dynamics.

"I felt that my thesis was barely an introduction and that a lot more could be investigated in the field. Considering my previous experience with the company and supervisors, I decided to apply for a PhD position."
Gerard Capellades Mendez

3. What are the possible wider implications of your research for society?
In the patent-driven pharmaceutical industry, a reduction in the process development times facilitates the early release of new drugs and extents the amount of time for which the drug is in the market under patent protection. Furthermore, a reduction in the manufacturing costs has become necessary to cover the increasing costs of drug development. A continuous manufacturing approach will keep research-based pharmaceutical companies competitive despite the high drug development costs, and thus it will support the development of new medicines. In addition, the use of smaller, integrated units increases safety and environmental sustainability in the manufacturing facilities. Finally, the automated processes improve consistency in drug quality, and thus the risk of a drug shortage due to a defective batch is minimized.

4. What made you choose applying for a PhD position at DTU Chemical and Biochemical Engineering
I took my MSc. at DTU Chemical and Biochemical Engineering, during which I had the opportunity to work in this field in cooperation with the pharmaceutical company H. Lundbeck A/S. Especially during my thesis I became interested in the continuous crystallization research that was being conducted in this department. I felt that my thesis was barely an introduction and that a lot more could be investigated in the field. Considering my previous experience with the company and supervisors, I decided to apply for a PhD position to expand our research in this area.

5. What does the future hold for you?
During the PhD project, I have developed an interest for crystallization and its impact on drug performance. There is still a big gap in the understanding of crystallization processes and I would like to further expand my knowledge on the field. I expect that my near future will either be oriented to crystallization research or to its application in a full-scale pharmaceutical process.

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