Formulation and healthcare engineering

We have a strong track record in fundamental research into formulation science, product engineering and process modelling. Our particular strength lies in mechanistic analysis, multiscale modelling, material synthesis and characterisation, process optimisation and innovation for a wide range of formulated products.

Research areas

A vast majority of chemical and consumer products are designed with complex formulations of multiple ingredients for specific functionality. These formulated products exist in various forms, such as particles, pastes, emulsions and thin films, and are manufactured in different industrial sectors including pharmaceuticals, fine chemicals (e.g. catalysts) and fast moving consumer goods.

The grand challenge associated with manufacture of formulated products lies in the development of science-based design space to ensure that the products have the desired attributes, and thus requires a thorough understanding of the feed material-process-product relationship. This theme targets this grand challenge using a holistic and multiscale approach.

We strive for developing science-based modelling and experimental approaches for designing and innovating formulations, processes and products for a healthy nation.

We develop science-based predictive models at a wide range of scales for designing and manufacturing formulated products and addressing emerging healthcare challenges.

We have a strong track in developing advanced numerical models using MD, DFT, LBM, coupled discrete element methods with computational fluid dynamics (DEM-CFD), DEM-LBM, and finite element modelling (FEM), data-driven models, machine learning, process modelling and optimisation. These advanced models are used to develop innovative formulated products and processes for energy application, pharmaceuticals, biopharmaceuticals and infectious disease.

We have been working closely with major global players in the pharmaceutical industry, such as AstraZeneca, MSD, Janssen and Genentech, and fast-moving consumer goods, such as Unilever and P&G. We developed physically thorough digital models for formulations development and product manufacturing, which are now capable of simulating the industrial scale manufacturing processes.

This research is supported by three EPSRC projects (EP/V003070/1, EP/M02976X and EP/N033876) and five EU FP7/H2020 grants, as well as several industrial projects. Our research is further enhanced with a recent €1.8m collaborative project on Pharma 4.0 with Janssen Pharmaceuticals and Ghent University, funded by the Agentschap voor Innoveren and Ondernemen (“VLAIO”), Belgium.

We have collaborated with a wide range of industries including food, pharmaceutical and mining companies to develop methods and analysis as well as modelling approaches to optimise processes such as milling, mixing, granulation, coating and compaction, as well as developing techniques for accurately quantifying powder flowability under low stress and high strain rate conditions, as well as for predicting powder flow behaviour during manufacturing processes.

This research is supported by one EPSRC project (EP/V003070/1), two EU H2020 projects, and several industrially funded projects.

The pharmaceutical industry is going through rapid changes to keep up with the continuously growing challenges worldwide. The need to develop new medicines, the rising costumer expectations, and the issues on the supply chain management are some of the main drives that are transforming the pharmaceutical business.

Our research spans from bench-top research (mechanistic analysis, data-driven approaches and experimentation) to supply chain modelling and process integration. Currently, our researchers focus on the development of continuous manufacturing processes, applications of microfluidic platforms for drug production, point-of-care diagnostics, and numerical models, as well as digital twins for these processes.

Our aim is to develop cost-efficient and high-impact technologies to meet the demand for high quality and highly regulated pharmaceutical products, and fill the missing link between excellent product development and efficient commercialisation and distribution.

We are specialised in synthesising a range of nanocrystalline powders with superior thermochemical, electrical, and mechanical properties for various applications such as fuel cells, electrolysers, water treatment, microfluidic devices, etc.

We have recently developed a single step “green synthesis” route for preparing advanced polycrystalline solids and nanocomposite ceramics for hydrogen fuel cells and electrolysers. Our aim is to create low-cost and environmentally friendly materials for the next generation of highly efficient energy systems, water-treatment units, and heat-recovery devices.

Our patented water-splitting materials and device (US 2020/0115806 A1 and WO 2020/016580 A2) have received significant attention from world-class companies, such as Fluor, Air Products, Exxon, etc., for further development on a pilot-scale.

We also have a strong research track record in sonocrystallisation that utilises ultrasound generated cavitation to better induce and control crystal nucleation. We have unique and specialised equipment that allows us to induce sonocrystallisation using wide range of frequencies (22kHz - 2MHz), capture cavitation induced crystallisation using high speed camera and evaluate real time spatial distribution of cavitation activity by imaging sonoluminescene emissions from bubbles.

These are powerful tools that have enabled us to better understand and control sonocrystallisation in terms of crystal size and size distribution, polymorphs and yield, and improve crystallisation of difficult APIs. The work has attracted collaboration and funding with Pfizer, NPL and Royal Society (IES\R3\183199).

We pioneered the development of multiscale in-silico predictive tools for transdermal permeation, which are capable of predicting transdermal permeation and absorption without relying on fitting to experimental data. Most importantly, this provides an important alternative approach to animal testing.

We have also been working with a range of SMEs in cosmetic and medical device remit on novel topical formulations and delivery for skin care and wound healing. The tools are being used by Unilever to support fast screening of skin care actives and safety assurance, reducing the need for animal testing.

Our research enables non-animal, computer-aided design and risk assessment of topical drugs, personal care products, agrochemicals, environmental pollutants, etc. Our research in this area convinced the Cosmetics Europe that this is a unique approach, so funded us to participate in their model evaluation programme in 2017.

Our research in this area has received sustained funding from US FDA, European Crop Protection Association, Impact Acceleration/consultancy/Innovate UK projects with three SMEs (including Innovate UK grants 68200, 75251), Unilever, four BBSRC/NC3Rs studentships (BB/L502042/1; BB/P504415/1; BB/S50709X/1; NC/T001720/1) and EPSRC (EP/S021159).

Furthermore, in collaboration with NPL through joint employment and collaborative research projects, we developed a novel measurement technique for topical drug delivery using coherent Raman scattering and fluorescence microscopies, The US Food and Drug Administration have since identified this new approach as a non-invasive method to evaluate the bioavailability of a topically applied drug in the skin, and have funded further research through grant 1U01FD006533-01.

Facilities

Our research facilities are primarily housed in two recently refurbished research laboratories: The Analytical Lab and the Particle Engineering Lab.

Analytical Lab

The Analytical Lab is equipped with a wide range of facilities for:

Materials synthesis

  • High-temperature chamber and tube furnaces
  • Rotavaps
  • High energy ultrasound probes, etc.

Comprehensive electrical characterisation

  • High-resolution potentiostat/galvanostat
  • DC loads
  • DC power supply
  • High-resolution desktop multimeters, etc.

Physiochemical analysis equipment

  • TGA
  • SEM
  • Gas pycnometer
  • FTIR
  • Raman spectroscopy analyser
  • Particle size analyser
  • H2-TPR
  • Access to the comprehensive equipment such as FESEM, TEM, XRD, XPS analysers campus-wide.

SOFC cell construction and testing rigs

  • Screen printer
  • Tape caster
  • Cell test fixture
  • EIS analysis rig, etc.

Particle Engineering Lab

The Particle Engineering Lab is equipped with the following characterisation and processing equipment:

Particle characterisation

  • Size and shape distribution; 0.5 – 30,000 μm (QicPic)
  • Moisture content (Mettler Toledo).
  • In situ nano-indentor (Alemnis)
  • Nanosizer (NanoSight NS500).

Particle breakage

  • Conical mill (Erweka CM 60)
  • Rotary cutting mill.

Powder flowability

  • Schulze RST.XS.s shear cell; 0.1 – 20 kPa
  • Freeman FT4 Powder Rheometer; dynamic flowability, permeability, aeration
  • Freeman Uniaxial Powder Tester; < 100 kPa
  • Funnel flow testers (Granuflow, Flowdex)
  • Custom-built die filling systems; linear (passive) and rotational (active).

Other facilities

  • Temperature and humidity conditioning
  • Roller compactors
  • High speed camera (Phantom v1612)
  • DEM and DEM-CFD simulation software: EDEM, Rocky DEM, BlazeDEM, ABAqus, Star-CCM
  • Instron mechanical testing machines
  • Scanning Electron Microscope (SEM).
  • Franz diffusion cell
  • Ultrasound reactors (22kHz-2MHz).

Ongoing projects

Start date: January 2021

End date: December 2023

Completed projects

Collaborations

We collaborate with a wide range of industrial sectors as well as academic institutions worldwide.

  • Ghent University
  • Imperial College London
  • Institute of Process Engineering (IPE)
  • Kings College London
  • National Physical Laboratory
  • University College London (UCL)
  • University of Queensland.

  • Eli Lilly and company
  • Freeman Technology
  • Genentech
  • GSK
  • International Fine Particle Research Institute (IFPRI)
  • Janssen Pharmaceuticals
  • Johnson Matthey
  • P&G
  • Pfizer
  • Phytoceutical Ltd
  • Pplus Products Ltd
  • Unilever.

Meet the team

Academic staff

Bahman Amini Horri profile image

Dr Bahman Amini Horri

Senior Lecturer in Chemical Engineering

Natalie Belsey profile image

Dr Natalie Belsey

Senior Lecturer & Senior Research Scientist at NPL

Qiong Cai profile image

Dr Qiong Cai

Reader in Chemical and Process Engineering

Colin Hare profile image

Dr Colin Hare

Visiting Senior Lecturer of Chemical Engineering

Judy Lee profile image

Dr Judy Lee

Reader, Director of Learning and Teaching for Chemical and Process Engineering

Lian Liu profile image

Dr Lian Liu

Research Centre manager

Michael Short profile image

Dr Michael Short

Lecturer of Chemical and Process Engineering

Rex Thorpe profile image

Professor Rex Thorpe

Professor of Chemical Engineering

Dimitrios Tsaoulidis profile image

Dr Dimitrios Tsaoulidis

Asst Professor (Lecturer) in Chemical & Process Engineering

Charley Wu profile image

Professor Charley Wu

Professor of Chemical Engineering

Visiting staff

Michele Marigo profile image

Dr Michele Marigo

Visiting Senior Lecturer

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Dr Mikio Sakai

Visiting Professor

Eirini Velliou profile image

Dr Eirini Velliou

Visiting Senior Lecturer

Researchers

Lucy Coleman profile image

Lucy Coleman

Project: Multi-scale modelling of dermal absorption, disposition, systemic circulation and liver metabolism of xenobiotics

Omar Ismail profile image

Omar Ismail

Project: A combined experimental and numerical study of powder flow through forced feeders in tableting systems

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Dr Marv Khala

Postdoctoral Research Fellow

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Francisco Fidelis Kisuka

Project: DEM modelling of heat generation induced by friction of low stresses

Yufan Liu profile image

Yufan Liu

Project: Chemical safety assessment using omics and machine learning technology

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Azza Mahmoud

Postgraduate Research Student

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Lisa Purk

Project: Biofilm formation of Listeria monocytogenes on a novel triphasic viscoelastic food model and the application of a novel mild preservation technique; cold plasma

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Aman Rastogi

Project: Heat generation and transfer during reaction in granular materials

Daniel Sebastia Saez profile image

Dr Juan Daniel Sebastia Saez

Associate Tutor & Research Fellow in Chemical Engineering

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Samadhi Silva Silva

Project: Computational modelling of the effect of product formulations on skin penetration

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Paweenuch Teerasumran

Project: In-situ gelation of antiperspirant actives

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Styliani Totti

Research Fellow

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Ling Zhang

Technical Project Manager