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The visit to GSK was a very interesting one. The visit started of with a brief introduction of the company, what they are known for, a brief lecture on how the active ingredients are made, before we are taken to seen the production process of one of the active ingredients inside their Diskus product. Finally, we were given another sharing on sustainable development.

After the invaluable visit to GSK, we can certainly say that it changed alot of our views on a pharmaceutical company manufacturing plant. The site in Jurong is a Primary Manufacturing site, which is a global supplier of the active ingredients of many pharmaceuticals, while there are also the secondary manufacturing processes where the excipients and the powder carriers are added, are usually done in other plants. Before the visit, most of us had no clear idea of how a medicinal pill was manufactured and what exactly was inside a pill.

We were also exposed to new knowledge learnt on the drug producing process, which basically involved three parts.

In process development, not only must the series of reaction processes to produce the active compound be determined, the engineers and scientists must also optimize the processes involved to obtain a pure product at a low cost. After that, the processes devised must be optimized and scaled up to the industrial scale.
1) Conditions and reagents required (Is the conditions hard and costly to maintain?, Is the reagents hard to obtain?)
2) Chemical quality (impurities, stability)
3) Yield
4) Physical quality (particle size, amount)
5) If the production of the API is safe and economical for company

In process optimisation, we were given the example of size control in the powder used for the diskus inhalers, in which the following factors had to be considered:
1) Seed loading and the resultant seed size (high seed loading would result in a smaller size for the particle)
2) Environmental conditions (e.g. Temperature/pressure)
3) Reaction conditions (Ramp/Rate; Ageing/Length of time)
4) Solvents/Antisolvents to be used

In scaling-up, the following factors must be considered:
1) Time scale: how long will the reaction take
2) Mixing: what forms of agitation to use
3) Temperature control: to prevent potential explosions
4) Visibility: unlike in the lab, the reaction may not be visible from outside -> How to monitor reaction
5) Safety: Will the reagents be toxic? Will the vessels used be able to withstand the pressure and temperature?

It can be said that this part of the visit gave us the most information on how drugs are produced, how lab experiments become large industry processes in order to produce the large amount of active ingredient needed to supply the world!

After that, we were taken to production building 3 to see for ourselves how the API are produced. In the building, we saw the reaction vessels where the reactions for the production of API were taking place. The reaction vessels were enormous and situated between two floors; they are equipped with thermal control blankets and pressure control systems to maintain a specific temperature and pressure within the vessel so that the reaction will take place at a fast rate and the yield of the API will be the greatest. There were also control stations to monitor and control the conditions inside the reaction vessels. There are also other processes that take place during the production of the API. For example, we were shown a machine where the workers were manually spreading and drying the powdered form of the API.

Through the visit, we also learnt about GSK's bold goal and aim to reduce their carbon emissions. By 2050, they hope to reach a neutral level whereby there is zero carbon emission levels. What's more they are not going to reach this goal with the conventional method of planting trees, they are gearing towards reducing the emissions by altering their work processes. This is a much more challenging but rewarding in the long run. Such consideration for the environment would prove to help prevent global warming and the rising global temperatures in the world. One really does not realise just how much humans are ruining the environment until we crunch the numbers. It is indeed astounding to find our that the Jurong factory alone produces tons of CO2 a year! Some of the strategies that will be adopted include reduction in water use, raw materials and carbon dioxide emission. For example, GSK aims to recover used solvent and recycle them. The quality of the solvent will not be compromised during the process. This way, less raw materials will be required, maximising the use of these raw materials. Also, one of the plans is waste heat boiler. Since most chemical reactions taking place in pharmaceutical company, GSK, are exothermic, they release energy to the surroundings as heat. The thermal energy can then be used to heat up other reactors in the company. GSK also promotes research and development to use new methods to produce active ingredients of high quality with less raw materials or power consumption.