About: The Cancer Research UK Formulation Unit

Tucked away in a corner of a brick building at Strathclyde University are the laboratories of the research team I’ve worked with for the last 15 years. This blog is about what we do, what it looks like and why – with some cool video links embedded in the text as well! This is a copied version of the University Research Day 2013 blog post called ‘Exploring New Drugs to Fight Cancer‘.

Fully funded by the UK medical charity Cancer Research UK, the Formulation Unit – as we’re called – designs, develops and manufactures drug products for patients to take in clinical trials. In the last 30 years the team here have worked on over 50 different compounds, some of which are now marketed cancer treatments (for example the Schering blockbuster treatment for glioma, Temodal).

Before a doctor can prescribe medicine to a patient it has to be shown to be safe and effective and this is normal done through a series of tests called ‘clinical trials’. Clinical trials are very different from normal lab experiments in that they use human volunteers or patients, and so – as you’d expect – the rules and regulations are far stricter. Ben Goldacre outlines clinical trials on youtube here.

The science is different as well; a lab experiment might take place in a wide variety of solvents and solutions, but for medicines any ‘system’ has to be safe for patients. (Remember the smelly organic solvents, acids and bases of your school chemistry labs. And now think about whether you would want to drink them!).

The Formulation Unit deals with the quality, regulatory, safety and science of producing drugs for clinical trial patients. We partner closely with the Drug Development Office, part of Cancer Research UK specifically setup to try and get new therapies into clinical trials and onto medicines that doctors can use to treat cancer.

The Formulation Unit has both manufacturing and laboratory rooms. The manufacturing facilities include the ability to make both capsules and sterile ampoules and vials. They are cleaned and checked on a daily basis to ensure they are free from any chemical or biological contaminants that may affect the product the patients finally receive. Our labs are fully equipped to test the manufactured products (an important part of the manufacturing process is an independent ‘Quality Control’ check). The results tell us not only how much drug a patient will receive, but what impurities there might be. The drugs used in cancer therapy can be toxic and so our labs have several ‘glove box isolators’ that we use to contain these powders.

Hopefully this gives a ‘wee flavour’ of the work we do. Use the comments box of you have any questions…as scientists we might not know the answers, we might not even have the right answers, but it’ll be fun finding them!

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