Roquette's US innovation center marks first year of pharmaceutical advancements

By Liza Laws

- Last updated on GMT

© Getty Images
© Getty Images

Related tags roquette Excipients API Manufacturing

As Roquette's US Innovation Center marks its first anniversary, Roquette took the opportunity to reflect on its interesting journey and achievements over the past year.

The center, envisioned as a hub for groundbreaking research and development in pharmaceutical sciences, has thus far successfully lived up to its promise of fostering innovation and accelerating drug development.

To gain deeper insights into the successes and future directions of the US Innovation Center, Outsourcing Pharma had the privilege of speaking with Vinod Tuliani, head of global pharmaceutical sciences at Roquette. In this exclusive interview, Vinod shares his perspectives on the center's impact, key accomplishments, and the collaborative efforts that have driven its success. He also sheds light on the center's strategic vision and how it plans to continue pushing the boundaries of pharmaceutical innovation.

What role does the center play in the company's overall strategy a year on?

The underlying rationale behind the US Pharmaceutical Innovation Center is two-fold; to provide a hub to support our customers in the US and beyond, and establish a center of excellence for orally administered, small molecule drugs and supplements, complementing the work of our Innovation Centers in France and Singapore.  Our focus on oral dosage research stems from the fact that, as a market leader in excipient technology, we see it as our responsibility to develop patient-friendly dosage forms that increase medication compliance.

A year on since the opening, I’m delighted to say that our ambition to become a recognized and trusted formulation and technology partner for our customers is already being realized. Experts based at the center have conducted product trials for more than 15 customers, authored several research papers and helped train distribution partners and commercial teams on our latest advancements. We’re so proud of the progress we’ve made in just 12 months, but this is only the beginning – watch this space!

How has the hiring of research scientists and formulation specialists contributed to the center's objectives?

In total, we’ve hired 15 members of staff, including eight world-class scientists. Their hard work has allowed us to establish an Applied Sciences facility – focusing on the research of excipients for oral dosage forms – and a Customer Technical Services Laboratory, where our experts work in close collaboration with customers to formulate next-generation drugs and consumer health products. With a greater concentration of scientific knowledge in one place, we have been able to expand the center’s profile as an education hub, holding regular symposiums on the latest breakthroughs from Roquette and the wider scientific community.

What are some of the key technologies that have been implemented at the facility over the past year, and how do they enhance Roquette's capabilities?

We have invested more than US $1 million in adding to the center’s equipment capabilities over the past year, with the most notable purchases being a tablet compression machine, twin-screw granulator, coating color matching spectrophotometer, texture analyzer and powder rheometer. These additions are key to the development of oral solid dose formulations and reflect the equipment used by our partners. With the capability to formulate and test on industry-standard apparatus, we’re able to rapidly transfer learnings from our innovation center’s laboratory to our customers’ sites with parameters already worked out ahead of time.

Can you share any specific examples of product trials conducted at the center and their outcomes?

Cannabidiol (CBD) has been shown to have many therapeutic benefits, but with its low melting point, water insolubility, taste masking challenges and poor bioavailability, it’s not the easiest active pharmaceutical ingredient (API) to add to a formulation. To help make this elusive active more accessible, researchers at our US Innovation Center began exploring the possibility of using spray drying technology to create an amorphous solid dispersion of CBD that could be incorporated into a convenient oral dosage form. Following a series of tests, they found that solid dispersion by spray drying offers a stable alternative to existing marketed presentations of CBD, like ethanol extracts and topical creams, which often only deliver a very short shelf life. What’s more, they discovered that incorporating Kleptose Linecaps maltodextrin as a carrier and CLEARGUM® starch as a surfactant helped increase the thermal stability of the CBD solid dispersion and allowed for the easy adjustment of its particle size to suit a wide range of patient-friendly dosage forms.

Another study focused on the creation of mini tablets: multiple unit dosage forms less than 3.0 mm in diameter which are able to deliver high API doses in an easy-to-swallow format - perfect for pediatric medicine. The team at the US Innovation Center set out to identify the ideal excipient and processing parameters for minitab production, using a 3 mg melatonin tablet as the model drug. They concluded that Pearlitol 200 GT granulated mannitol is the excipient of choice for minitab applications, thanks to its excellent flowability properties, compressibility and resistance to capping, as well as its status as a water-soluble yet non-hygroscopic excipient, which helps produce tiny tablets with a longer shelf life.

How does Roquette plan to leverage the expertise of the new hires to drive innovation and growth?

We focus on adding to the breadth and depth of our knowledge pool through our recruitment strategies, particularly when it comes to hiring research and development experts. With the US Innovation Center’s strategic location in the heart of the Greater Philadelphia pharma corridor, we’re able to select from premier candidates who are leading lights in their respective fields. In particular, we look for specialists who are experienced in customer-led problem solving and the development of new products – both of which are core objectives for the center.

Are there any future expansion plans or additional investments planned for the innovation center?

We plan to add additional capabilities – staff as well as equipment – to our laboratories. Our commitment remains to creating an environment with deep collaboration at its heart, all so we can work closely with our customers on pipeline drugs, helping them get to market more quickly. 

What benefits does the innovation center bring to Roquette's customers and partners?

In short, our US Innovation Center offers our customers more: more expertise, more opportunities for collaboration and innovation, more support to bring new healthcare innovations to market quickly and successfully. We’ve already seen the impact the center has had in just 12 short months through the positive feedback we’ve received from our partners and the many new products that have come to fruition. We’re excited to keep delivering value for our customers, now and well into the future.

How does Roquette ensure that the innovation center remains at the forefront of industry advancements and continues to deliver value to stakeholders?

At its core, Roquette is a company built on curiosity. From the beginning, we have pioneered new applications for staple ingredients, striving to find fresh ways to offer the very best of nature. Our Innovation Centers are the physical embodiment of this philosophy, packed with the latest pharmaceutical processing, testing and manufacturing equipment, and staffed by the brightest scientific minds constantly asking: “What more can we do to support our customers and their patients?”. Continued investment in equipment and experts is how we will remain at the forefront of industry developments, but our “why” runs much deeper.

Our strategic location in Pennsylvania, about seventeen miles north of Philadelphia, allows us to maintain close contact with our customers and the wider scientific community, helping us understand both evolving market needs and the latest technical developments. The center also provides a great base for our experts to attend various scientific conferences and trade events, which in turn means they can learn and share the insights that keep the center at the forefront of pharma innovation.

In what ways does the innovation center align with Roquette's commitment to sustainability and environmental responsibility?

The innovation center prioritizes the development of sustainable products and processes. Take, for instance, Pearlitol 200 GT mannitol. This product allows for higher drug loading compared to other mannitol grades used in tablet formulations. The result is the production of smaller tablets, which subsequently leads to reduced packaging requirements – specifically less plastic waste – and decreased energy consumption during transportation due to lighter shipping weights.

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