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Manufacture Business Practice, Small Molecules, Trends & Forecasts

Meet The Green Team


Why should modern medicine makers engage with green chemistry and environmental sustainability? Compliance with existing environmental legislation is a given, but we also need to look at what’s around the corner. Products are increasingly being scrutinized by shareholders and stakeholders alike in terms of green credentials like carbon footprint and environmental fate. The industry will be held to ever-higher standards in terms of our impact on society and the natural world.

But it’s more than being a good corporate citizen. Greener and more sustainable manufacturing means the elimination of hazardous and environmentally damaging materials, lower usage of input materials, reagents and solvents, so less demand on natural resources and less waste to dispose of at the end of the process. This should simplify supply chains and lower costs – it’s good business sense.

In moving towards more sustainable pharmaceutical manufacturing, we need to develop and adopt new science and technology, but new processes and equipment aren’t the only way for us to make progress. We also need to pay close attention to the following crucial areas.

First, training and education are vital – not just for current staff, but also for the students who will be the next generation of employees. Everyone should be engaged in the greener manufacturing agenda, from the CEO to the newest recruit in the lab.

Second, we need appropriate tools and metrics to measure and quantitate progress – we need to ensure we are not deceived by a focus on single-issue sustainability, but instead look holistically at the complete process.

Third, industry needs to work with academia to translate important new scientific discoveries to a point where they can be quickly adopted by industry. It’s all too common to see an exciting new catalyst or chemical transformation be developed, only to find that it will only work in a solvent that is completely unsuitable in a manufacturing environment. We desperately need new ways to conduct highly translational research to make sure scale up is on the agenda from the start.

Fourth, as we move forward, new and improved toolboxes for industrial biotechnology and synthetic biology will become available alongside innovative engineering solutions. The winners in the sustainability game will have the philosophy and capability to work effectively at the interface of chemistry, engineering and biotechnology.

For me, the key to accelerate and quickly embed green chemistry and more sustainable pharmaceutical manufacturing is collaboration. It is remarkable how the pharmaceutical industry has moved over the past 10 years or so to work in a more collaborative way across a number of non-competitive areas – green chemistry being a prime example. Some exemplars of industry–industry and industry–academic collaborations include the IMI public–private partnership CHEM21 featured in this article, the ACS GREEN Chemical Institute Pharmaceutical Roundtable, and the Centre of Excellence in Biocatalysis, Biotransformations and Biocatalytic Manufacture. I am proud to have been associated with all of these collaborations, and believe that they have delivered – and will continue to deliver – a great deal of value to the pharmaceutical industry and, ultimately, back to stakeholders and patients.

Some companies have already come a long way, while others are just starting their green manufacturing journey. There is still some distance to go to really embed green chemistry and environmental sustainability in the global pharmaceutical industry. Serious improvements are still needed in solvent selection and use in the global arena, and there needs be a big focus on stopping the outsourcing of environmentally damaging processes to low-cost manufacturing in Asia and the Far East. However, there are many excellent examples of good practice out there that we all can learn from and build on. Here, we recognize some of the organizations and initiatives leading the way to a greener future.

Andy Wells is Managing Director and CSO of Charnwood Technical Consulting, UK.

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About the Author
Andy Wells

Andy Wells started his scientific journey as an industrial analytical chemist, moving into the synthesis of organophosphorus ligands and novel organometallics for his PhD, then into the synthesis of pharmaceuticals. He has worked both within industry and in the consulting business, and collaborated with a number of leaders in green chemistry and sustainable manufacturing looking to bring new medicines to patients whilst minimizing any environmental impact. Commenting on changing attitudes to green chemistry, Andy says, “When I finished my PhD in 1985, green chemistry as a concept was unheard of, moving to a quirky and niche area in the mid-1990’s, and now business-as-usual for several big pharma companies.”

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