The Next Frontier in Molecular Engineering

March 13, 2018

Brettmann creates small particles for big pharma

A new trend is emerging in the pharmaceutical industry: continuous drug manufacturing. Traditionally, drugs are manufactured batch by batch, which is slow and inefficient. In fact, the FDA estimates that $50 billion is lost each year in manufacturing costs due to inefficient processes. Alternatively, the continuous manufacturing process allows drugs to be made with little to no interruption, resulting in lower manufacturing costs, as well as more reliable, higher quality drugs. And ultimately, consumers will see an increase in patient access through price reductions.

Blair Brettmann, assistant professor in Georgia Tech’s School of Materials Science Engineering, currently focuses her research on novel drug manufacturing processes. Her goal is to improve the continuous manufacturing process already on the market and develop a drug production system that can scale up for commercial use. Large pharmaceutical companies are sure to take notice of her work in order to capitalize on a more efficient manufacturing process.

In addition to process work, Brettmann is growing drugs in her lab that have more effective properties than those currently on the market. Rather than delivering drug powders in tablet form, she is crystalizing drugs to make them more digestible by the stomach.

“The challenge with some drugs is they are not very water soluble, meaning they aren’t easily digested,” said Brettmann. “By creating a crystal form, we are seeing that they are more easily broken down and therefore more effective in treating symptoms of disease.”

Uniquely, Brettmann has a more holistic approach to her work, building drugs with the end in mind – like healthcare savings or drug efficacy. Rather than studying each molecule individually, Brettmann looks at the solution in its entirety. This is where her approach differs from what other researchers are doing in her field.

“I like to think about the final product first, before getting down to the molecular level,” said Brettmann. “It’s a more integrated approach that’s redefining the field, and I’m pushing my molecular engineering research even further by looking at multicomponent systems for use in real world, commercialized applications.”  

In addition to research and teaching, Brettmann advises a CREATE-X team that leverages molecular engineering in the biomedical field. The biomedical student team is working with Brettmann to create a biodegradable implantable birth control device. Brettmann enjoys her work with CREATE-X, a faculty-led, student-focused initiative that helps students launch startups.

“I love being involved in CREATE-X and advising the students on their startup ideas,” said Brettmann. “Since I come from an industry background, I can help coach them on pitching their products and developing product concepts at a macro level.”

Brettmann has also become involved with the Center for the Science and Technology of Advanced Materials and Interfaces (STAMI), a center that supports the activities of researchers across Georgia Tech to create the next generation of molecular materials. Brettmann is currently working with Jennifer Curtis, associate professor of physics in the College of Sciences, on charged polymer brushes research. A major factor that attracted Brettmann to Tech was the ability to work across disciplines and collaborate with other departments. 

“I came to Tech because of the interdisciplinary nature of the work here,” said Brettmann. “In this building alone, I have access to material science researchers, chemical engineers, biomedical engineers and physicists. There is a great synergy here.”

Although she’s only been at Tech a year, Brettmann has big plans for her pharmaceutical research. With the human body being such a complex system, she notes that there is a lot of room to develop better pharmaceutical techniques, and the use of molecular engineering in that context is very promising.

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