Green chemistry principles first emerged in the 1990s, and the pharmaceutical industry – especially larger, global organizations – began steadily incorporating its principles in subsequent years.
Here are some recent examples of how Big Pharma has embraced the opportunity of green chemistry:
- In one process, Novartis demonstrated potential savings of 20,000 tons of CO2 by 2030.
- Takeda has developed a manufacturing process which generates 78% less waste, uses 93% less organic solvent, and consumes 46% less water.
- Janssen created an initiative which annually saves around 500 tons of CO2 emissions and recycles about 100 tons of chemicals.
- Pfizer has also gotten into the game, with a goal “to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 60% and decrease the amount of material they need to create products by 68%.”
Green Chemistry: Needs to be Made the Norm, Not the Exception
Green chemistry is no longer the sole preserve of Big Pharma MNCs. With global pollution levels rising at an alarming rate and worst-case climate scenarios playing out around the world, significant efforts are underway across the industry.
Much more remains to be done, however. Adopting green chemistry principles in pharmaceutical process design and development unfortunately still remains the exception rather than the rule – something which must be changed in order to fully transform the industry.
Conceptually, the aim is waste and hazard prevention, but green chemistry is more than just an environmentally responsible approach to chemical product applications and processes. It has become critically important to the corporate bottom line, as well – hence its increasing adoption.
To minimize pharma’s adverse ecological impact and eliminate or reduce the global production and use of harmful chemical contaminants, pharmaceutical industry leaders are concentrating their efforts on embracing green chemistry concepts.
Pharmaceutical chemists are aware of the correlation between an increase in the organic syntheses of life-changing pharma products and surges in hazardous waste generation. Generally, the response has been a growing focus on greener alternatives to current processes.
Assuming Ecological Stewardship
For Neuland, assuming ecological stewardship means we remain aware that the application of green principles must progress from the lab bench to commercial scales. As we have voiced during various presentations in the past, the research of greening methods in the drug industry must fundamentally include actual process research rather than only the exploration of process design changes.
Successfully putting green chemistry into practice at scale, however, demands a rethink of existing practices. Chief amongst them is ensuring consideration is given to research across the various stages in the manufacturing process. Rather than highlighting only downstream process changes, we’ve found it effective to also prioritize research into front-end processes to identify pathways which promote process efficiency.
Focusing on Green Concepts
Green chemistry includes 12 principles— all designed to facilitate safety and reduce waste. As Neuland embraces these greening concepts, we are directing particular focus toward areas that apply to active pharmaceutical ingredients, such as atom economy, zero liquid discharge and chemical safety.
- Atom Economy
The essential goal of atom economy is the incorporation of all process materials into the final product. As pharmaceutical chemistry professionals, we prioritize yield improvements – but we simultaneously focus on generating minimal effluent. By adding optimized proportions of catalysts and substrates under specific conditions, we are able to maximize atom utilization and reduce waste.
- Zero Liquid Discharge
Rather than releasing wastewater from syntheses into the environment, with zero liquid discharge the objective is to recover and reuse the water. This processing strategy emphasizes water recycling to eliminate pollutant discharge and promote water conservation. At Neuland, we’ve implemented effluent treatment via Zero Liquid Discharge systems across all three of our manufacturing units (Unit 1, Unit II & Unit III). We’ve also installed a solvent recovery plant. These spent, recovered solvents are then used in manufacturing.
- Chemical Safety
Neuland focuses on designing chemistry to achieve desired API functionality while minimizing or eliminating toxicity. Our scientists are designing synthetic methods that utilize and produce nontoxic substances – avoiding harm to humans and the environment. When possible, we replace hazardous options with more benign alternatives. The goal is to choose the least toxic solvents— curtailing the use of the most hazardous, flammable and volatile chemicals and solvents. In instances where harmless options are not available, we reduce the ecological impact of unsafe substances through effluent treatment.
- Derivative and Auxiliary Reduction
To reduce the number of derivatives, Neuland actively seeks synthetic pathways. Our elimination of the steps required to protect and de-protect specified groups, coupled with diminished auxiliary usage, facilitates reductions in time, cost, and waste—offering win-win results for Neuland, our clients, and the environment.
- Design for Energy Efficiency
It is important to reduce energy use in chemical processes. Understanding the energy requirements of chemical processes and their environmental and economic impacts – both of which should be minimized – is critical. For example, reactions, whenever possible, should be carried out at ambient temperatures and pressures.
As the pharmaceutical industry strives for sustainable development, Neuland continues to research and develop safer processes for products, focusing on reducing waste generation, and improving efficiencies. Not only will these strategies lessen pharma’s ecological footprint, but they can also realize significant cost savings in the long run by decreasing the need for waste disposal and reagent procurement.
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