An employee runs tests in the Medicines for All lab at the VCU College of Engineering.
An employee runs tests in the Medicines for All lab at the VCU College of Engineering. (Dan Wagner, VCU College of Engineering)

VCU’s Medicines for All Institute partners with industry to secure the domestic pharmaceutical supply chain

Share this story

To prevent domestic shortages of critical medications, the Medicines for All Institute, based in the Virginia Commonwealth University College of Engineering, has joined forces with pharmaceutical industry leaders to bring manufacturing of vulnerable pharmaceuticals and their ingredients back to the United States.

Phlow Corp., a Richmond-based public benefit corporation focused on the research, development and manufacturing of essential pharmaceuticals, leads the partnership and will incorporate Medicines for All’s advanced manufacturing processes to produce active pharmaceutical ingredients for critical and short-supply medications. Civica Rx, a leading nonprofit pharmaceutical company and national supplier of affordable, generic medications, and AMPAC Fine Chemicals, with a Virginia-based pharmaceutical ingredient manufacturing operation, complete this new end-to-end pharmaceutical supply chain consortium to help reduce U.S. dependency on overseas drug manufacturers.

Today, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services announced a $354 million, four-year contract with Phlow Corp. to accelerate this initiative. Phlow Corp. was co-founded by three-time VCU alumnus Eric Edwards, M.D., Ph.D., who serves as president and CEO, and B. Frank Gupton, Ph.D., CEO of Medicines for All and the Floyd D. Gottwald Jr. Chair in Pharmaceutical Engineering and chair of the Department of Chemical and Life Science Engineering at VCU. 

"We have an acute and long-term public health emergency in the United States that we are poised to help solve right now," said VCU President Michael Rao, Ph.D. "This public-private partnership positions us to ensure that our country will have the essential drugs it needs to treat public health threats such as COVID-19."

The Medicines for All Institute was founded out of the VCU College of Engineering in 2017 to expand access to safe, effective and affordable medications. To do this, the institute’s engineers use advanced manufacturing technologies that significantly curb waste, cut costs and reduce pollution.  

“The timeliness of this partnership cannot be overstated,” said Barbara D. Boyan, Ph.D., the Alice T. and William H. Goodwin Jr. Dean of the VCU College of Engineering. “The ability to provide critical generic pharmaceuticals for the treatment of COVID-19 now and in the post-pandemic world that are manufactured in the United States is invaluable for ensuring the health care of Americans. We look forward to sharing the resources of the Medicines for All Institute with Phlow, Civica and AMPAC to meet these challenges.”

Medicines for All is a pioneer in the development of continuous flow processing, a method of producing active pharmaceutical ingredients uninterrupted. This eliminates the inefficient stops and starts of manufacturing these ingredients batch by batch, as they are commonly produced. Active pharmaceutical ingredients manufactured through continuous flow processing generate less waste and their quality tends to be higher and more consistent. 

“The creation of the Medicines for All Institute and its evolution into this larger network of activity is a perfect example of the benefits possible by creating strong public-private partnerships,” Boyan said. “Not only are we bringing significant benefit to society, but we are also driving sustainable economic development by providing a highly skilled workforce for the future.” 

B. Frank Gupton in the Medicines for All lab.
B. Frank Gupton in the Medicines for All lab. (Dan Wagner, VCU College of Engineering)

Gupton, who founded Medicines for All, said since its inception the institute has actively trained engineers and scientists in low-income countries, especially in Africa, and implemented its processes there.

Gupton sees including domestic drug manufacturers in the institute’s network as an important next step.

“The Medicines for All Institute is a global initiative that focuses on increasing access to health care for those who need it most. This new U.S.-driven effort will allow us to focus on creating a more robust and sustainable supply chain of essential medications in our country,” Gupton said.

“The COVID-19 event has made us acutely aware of our current vulnerability in this area. My colleagues and I are grateful for the opportunity to play a part in addressing this effort to fix the acute and chronic health care challenges that are facing us today by bringing pharmaceutical manufacturing back to the U.S.”

Phlow Corp. CEO Eric Edwards, who received a bachelor’s in biology and medical and doctoral degrees in pharmaceutical science, all from VCU, said, “I am humbled to work with such amazing talent at M4All and VCU to make this vision of securing advanced manufacturing capability for our country’s most essential medicines and their ingredients a reality." 

VCU President Rao also expressed gratitude to state and federal government officials for their strong advocacy in support of this partnership, including Gov. Ralph Northam, U.S. Sens. Tim Kaine and Mark Warner, and U.S. Reps. Donald S. Beyer Jr., Gerald E. Connolly, A. Donald McEachin, Bobby C. Scott, Abigail Spanberger, Jennifer Wexton and Robert J. Wittman.

Rao also recognized VCU’s School of Pharmacy and the Department of Chemistry in the College of Humanities and Sciences for partnering with Medicines for All to advance the state of pharmaceutical engineering in the United States and beyond.