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Ahmad Ziaee, SSPC Industry Impact of the Year
September 9, 2020

Congratulations to Dr Ahmad Ziaee, Bernal Institute, University of Limerick (UL) acknowledged for his research outputs that have made a tangible impact with/for an industrial partner. An award sponsored by Biopharmachem Ireland (bpci).

Ahmad’s research was based on Spray Drying of Pharmaceuticals and Biopharmaceutical: Optimization of Process and Formulation, supervised by Dr Emmet O’Reilly and Prof. Gavin Walker, working with SSPC’s MOMENTUM project, the first single industry partner project between Johnson and Johnson (J&J) and SSPC, jointly funded by Science Foundation of Ireland (SFI) and J&J.

As pharma and biopharma industry are transitioning from batch to continuous processes, demand of replacing batch processes such as freeze drying (time consuming, expensive) with continuous processes such as spray drying (SD) (cheap, highly controllable and efficient) has been seen within the industrial community. Therefore, MOMENTUM project was funded with the focus of enabling SD of pharmaceuticals and biopharmaceuticals to improve the stability and dissolution rate of large and small molecule active pharmaceutical ingredients (APIs) via continuous process.

The project kicked-off with drafting a collaborative literature review paper with collaborators in Janssen, Belgium on SD of pharmaceuticals and biopharmaceuticals which has been published in European Journal of Pharmaceutical Sciences. The review paper covers the state-of-the-art process and formulation experimental optimization approaches for SD of small and large molecule APIs.

The first phase of the project was in collaboration with Janssen in Belgium to optimize the process and formulation factors of spray drying of small molecule APIs with low aqueous solubility. The candidate API was formulated as amorphous solid dispersion (ASD) while the SD process was optimized using a design of experiment (DoE) approach. The work was orally presented in AIChE 2016 in San Francisco and published in European Journal of Pharmaceutics and Biopharmaceutics.

In an attempt to SD large molecule APIs, lysozyme was selected as a candidate molecule. DoE approach in combination with forced deactivation studies was introduced as an efficient strategy for SD of large molecule APIs. The results led to another collaborative paper with our industry partner published in the journal of Powder Technology in addition to an oral presentation at EuPAT9, 2018 conference in Manchester.

The success of the last two phases of the project set the basis for cooperation with parenteral centre of innovation of Janssen in Switzerland. This included J&J’s in-kind contribution of monoclonal antibodies (mAbs). The DoE approach was carefully designed and implemented using the BUCHI B290 in powder processing lab. Samples were characterized using resources available in Bernal biolabs, chemical sciences department and powder engineering labs in Bernal institute, UL. The results showcased our capabilities in optimizing the SD process of large molecule APIs as a comparable technology to the freeze drying which is the benchmark drying process in biopharmaceutical sector. Our collaboration has been continued even after my PhD viva in November 2019 by working on drafting our next collaborative publication on SD of mAb.

During the 3.5 year of his PhD, Ahmad had opportunity to attend in more than 70 teleconference and face-to-face meetings with our industrial partners from Janssen Puerto Rico, Belgium and Switzerland.

His first introduction to SSPC was when he was still a master by research student under supervision of Prof. Michael Zaworotko and Dr Syed Tofail back in 2015:

“I still remember it clearly that as an outsider I was always amazed by the level of positive communication and learning opportunities within the centre.”

This continued under the supervision of Prof. Gavin Walker and Dr Emmet O’Reilly. Prof. Gavin Walker is the Bernal chair of pharmaceutical powder processing with immense experience in process optimization. Working in his group exposed Ahmad to a friendly and highly professional environment. Working with Dr Emmet O’Reilly with his open-door policy, patience and great chemistry knowledge was an immense opportunity for catalysing the progress of Ahmad’s research.

Moreover, the presence of a project manager, Aisling Arthur in the MOMENTUM project introduced Ahmad to the basics of time management, meeting milestones and deliverables. Also, being able to use the SSPC state-of-the-art labs in Bernal institute was a huge advantage of being part of the centre.

Ahmad is now a postdoctoral researcher at Bernal Institute, University of Limerick.

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