Research and development in the UK continues to stretch laboratory boundaries, driven by demand to develop more effective treatments to prolong lives and prevent the onset of serious illnesses
Scientists are continually looking to develop powerful new drugs to avert, rather than cure, ongoing conditions such as cancer and diabetes.
Blockbuster drugs - now accounting for about one third of the pharmaceutical market - which can be used for treating heart attacks and lowering cholesterol, are also being produced.
Many of these new drugs are highly toxic and require isolation facilities for staff safety.
There is also a need for bespoke 'mix and match' machines in laboratories to control each component exactly.
One of the companies leading this highly technical field is Isopak , which specialises in the supply of equipment into laboratories and research centres in the United Kingdom and Ireland for small batch production.
To protect laboratory operators most of Isopak's range of equipment from Dott Bonapace of Milan can also be supplied specially modified for use in conjunction with isolation units for the preparation and packaging of drugs in tablet, powder and liquid form.
Typical of the machines offered is the In-Cap capsule filler, an Easystrip SPB4 single-dose pouch making machine and a CPR-6 tablet press.
The versatile In-Cap capsule filler is ideal for clinical trials as it can be pre-engineered with not just powder and pellet feeders, but can also be pre-programmed to effectively handle tablet and liquid feeding.
It has a newly-designed, low-volume hopper which allows operation with as little as 50gms of powder, thus cutting wastage.
Isopak's Easystrip SPB 4 single-dose pouch-making machine can also be tailored to produce small sachets of liquid in a bottle-like form with a small neck.
A hospital wanted to end the tedious process of hand-producing quality control samples for diagnostic equipment, particularly in the Q-point test solution for the blood sugar meters used by diabetics.
Each 30mm by 40mm sachet is automatically dosed with about 0.2ml of the liquid - a job the Easystrip SPB 4 does in only 100 minutes instead of the three days it used to take - freeing the hospital's laboratory staff to get on with tasks they are employed to do instead of tackling time-consuming laborious work.
The Easystrip is small, compact and mounted on castors for ease of movement.
It can be designed for relatively low output production for small-scale, niche-type products and is simple and easy to use.
To ensure full traceability Isopak can also supply an effective coding device to emboss a batch code on to each sachet, a print registration system and a notching mechanism to allow easy opening of packs.
Another flexible machine is the CPR-6 tablet press, one of which was supplied to the School of Pharmacy at Aberdeen's Robert Gordon University and is capable of producing up to 2500 tablets an hour.
It is of robust construction, is easy to operate and - a big plus - is very quiet, so lack of noise and ease of tool change, to enable different sizes of tablets to be produced one after the other, are two big plus points.
Convenience is a further feature as although the CPR-6 is normally a bench-top unit and one of the world's smallest at that, but it can also be mounted on a trolley - which holds the instrumentation hardware - so it can be easily moved around, or out of the way when it is not needed.
The unit is fully MS windows compatible and could be interfaced with almost any PC.
Isopak's managing director, Robin Davies, believes innovation in the market is the key to keeping up with the huge demand for more sophisticated drugs and treatments.
He said: "Pharmaceutical equipment needs to be a lot more flexible now so that it can handle the R+D of small, very niche, high value products.
"Increased modules, multiple feeders and the mix and match of capsules, pellets and liquids are now all essential requirements in the search for the next medical breakthrough".
Prevention is better than cure and pharmaceutical equipment suppliers like Isopak are playing their part in helping to equip laboratories and research centres with the highly adaptable machines they need to develop treatments to conquer illnesses that were once thought to be untreatable just 20 years ago.