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Recently, I’ve been thinking (and am worried) about the economy. It is clear that the whole economy is related to the price of oil, hence the rise in the cost of living. With these increasing costs, it is no wonder why there is panic in the pharmaceutical industry (as well as everywhere else!). I was interested to see what measures are going on in the pharmaceutical industry to help combat these additional costs and how sustainability was being incorporated into business ideas.
There does not appear to be a true definition of sustainability (from browsing). It can be described as the ‘capacity to endure’. I suppose it is difficult to understand and estimate sustainability of anything without understanding undermining factors and parameters. These factors can be broken down into three sections including: environmental, economical and social. Environmental factors include natural resource use, environmental management and pollution prevention. Economical factors include profit, cost savings, economic growth and research and development. Social factors include the standard of living, education, community and equal opportunities. A balance of all three sections would help maintain a level of sustainability within a business or a community for that matter.
Green chemistry is a clear subject area where sustainability is an outcome. In general it incorporates technologies that are energy efficient, reduce waste, avoid toxic chemicals, and utilise renewable raw materials. Green chemistry may also incorporate the use of a catalyst which can be re-useable. Applying these types of technologies to current active pharmaceutical ingredient synthesis is one of the ways in which the industry is trying to become sustainable. Dunn et al. (2004) discusses how green chemistry has helped reduce the synthesis of sildenafil citrate (Viagra™) from over 25Kg of waste to 6Kg. It’s a brilliant example of reducing organic solvents especially from producing over 1300L/kg of organic waste in 1990.
Another way the industry is trying to be sustainable is the switch from batch processing to continuous. I remember studying the pros and cons of this switch during my computing a-level (not similar from a science point of view but business it is). Generally, although the processes will now require less space and reduce time wasted during storage, cleaning etc. it may produce more delays due to problems during processing. For example, if the batch fails, where was the problem? During mixing or tableting etc? It will also require re-training, more expensive equipment, closer maintenance as machines will be running more often etc. Process analytical technology is used that enables process analytic chemistry tools to analyse the formulations critical process parameters.
Dunn, PJ. Galvin, S. Hettenbach, K. (2004). The development of an environmentally benign synthesis of sildenafil citrate (Viagra™) and its assessment by Green Chemistry metrics. Green Chemistry. 6, p43-48.