Pharmacy Students Help Develop Automated Syringe-Filling Technology

Aislinn Antrim, Associate Editor

Pharmacy Careers, Spring 2021, Volume 15, Issue 1
Pages: 17

The technology demonstrates the important role students can play in pushing the pharmaceutical industry forward.

Pharmacy students at the University of South Carolina (USC) have partnered with researchers and engineers to develop an innovative, automated syringe-filling system. According to USC, the product can complete this task with small-batch products, which is known to be challenging for workers to do by hand.1

The technology demonstrates the important role students can play in pushing the pharmaceutical industry forward. The system was designed by pharmacy and engineering students, who partnered with researchers and were led by mechanical engineering professor Ramy Harik, PhD.1

Traditionally, prefilled syringes are filled by hand in clean-room environments. Strict federal regulations have made this process increasingly difficult because workers must stand for hours performing repetitive motions. The new system could not only free up health professionals’ time but also help ensure safety and efficacy.1

The collaboration began when officials at Nephron Pharmaceuticals sought out the engineering and pharmacy colleges at USC 2 years ago.2 They pursued the partnership because of issues that arose when machinery operators at their facilities called in sick or were unable to work, which led to a halt in the production process. The new automated system developed in the collaboration will solve this problem.2

In order to develop the filling system, students and researchers worked with industry partners.1 The new system uses flexible, high-speed robots developed by Yaskawa Motoman and technology from the automation company Siemens.1 Several classes at USC worked to create the technology, resulting in the development of a robot named Smithers, which a press release noted was chosen based on the character from The Simpsons.2

At USC, Harik led 3 teams of senior engineering students to create the robot, and pharmacy students ensured that the medical and sterilization aspects were safe for future human injection. Students tested about 10 designs before finding one that worked.2

The robot was installed at Nephron Pharmaceuticals’ facility in late January 2021 and is currently undergoing commercial validation. Once it receives regulatory approval, USC and Nephron Pharmaceuticals will license the technology to health care and bioscience users.1

“Partnerships like this one are a win for patients, employees, and students, not to mention for companies like ours, that continue to grow and expand our capacity to help others,” said Nephron Pharmaceuticals’ owner and CEO, Lou Kennedy, in a prepared statement. “We are excited to build on the momentum created by our work with the university, especially with Dr Ramy Harik, and I can’t wait to see what we can do in the years ahead.”1

The system consists of 4 pieces of equipment that work in tandem to mimic a human filling the syringes. Separate pieces work together to hold, fill, and seal the syringes. In an article in The State, Kennedy said she would love to see future partnerships between Nephron Pharmaceuticals and USC.2

“My dream for the university is that we could commercially market these robots for hospitals around the world,” Kennedy said in the article. “If we had the ultimate dream, it would be to sell these, and a portion of the proceeds go back to the pharmacy and engineering school and allow us to endow a scholarship for future research.”2

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