Sustainability News & Research

Engineering Research Areas for Sustainable Pharmaceutical Manufacturing

Pharmacy Cross

In 2005, the ACS Green Chemistry Institute (GCI) and global pharmaceutical companies established the ACS GCI Pharmaceutical Roundtable to encourage integrating green chemistry and engineering into the pharmaceutical industry. The participants developed a list of key research areas in green chemistry in 2007. Now, Concepción Jiménez-González of GlaxoSmithKline (Research Triangle Park, NC) and coauthors at the roundtable companies have published a companion list of key green engineering research areas (Org. Process Res. Dev. DOI: 10.1021/op100327d, Feb. 22, 2011). The focus of the article is developing engineering research areas for sustainable manufacturing.

The authors note that biological processes constitute a great opportunity for sustainable engineering; but bioprocesses are not automatically “greener” than catalytic chemistry alternatives. For example, when “life cycle assessment” metrics were used to compare metal-catalyzed processes for the enantioselective reduction of ketoesters with a biocatalytic process, the determining factors were the solvents used in the workup and the energy requirements of the process, not whether the catalyst was chemical or biological (Jödicke, G., et al. J. Cleaner Prod. 1999, 7, 159–166).

In their discussion of bioprocesses, the authors emphasize the need for research that identifies environmental, health, and safety issues that must be managed. Claims of “greenness” must be considered within the wider framework of sustainability. Attempts to assess and compare the sustainability of bioprocesses must be based on life-cycle thinking, which depends on the output of systems engineering modeling and simulation techniques and considers such societal issues as land use and the use of genetically modified organisms.

The authors offer a list of requirements for routinely assessing the sustainability of pharmaceutical processes and embedding sustainability principles into process design and development:

  • generalized inclusion of life-cycle thinking in product and process design and development;
  • better understanding of life-cycle inventory and the impacts of pharmaceutical processes, bioprocesses, complex starting materials, and bioderived materials;
  • continuous development of reliable, common, easy-to-use, streamlined life-cycle assessment tools;
  • improved consistency and transparency of life cycle inventory and assessment (LCIA) as applied to pharmaceutical processes;
  • improved, streamlined LCIA methods that are easy to use in academia and industry;
  • better understanding of the interactions of the environmental, social, and economic aspects of the LCIA of pharmaceutical processes; and
  • integrating LCIA into the curricula of new generations of engineers.