The development of the pharmaceutical industrial in the 19th century has significantly improved society’s quality of life and it is now one of the most prominent industries in the UK (after tourism and finance), being worth £7 billion. However, the benefit of modern medicine comes at a cost to the environment, particularly regarding:
Unsustainable API Manufacture: The manufacture of active pharmaceutical ingredients (APIs) typically requires large quantities of highly distilled solvents (energy intensive), extreme (high and low) temperatures and long reaction times. In the pharmaceutical industry, 80% of the waste generated by the manufacturing process is solvent alone. This has been one of the key drivers in the development of the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), the UK 25 Year Environmental Plan and the Sustainable Chemistry Research and Development Act (USA).
Accumulation of APIs in the Environment: Recently, several studies have been published describing the adverse effects that both prescribed and illegal drugs are having on the environment. Wilkinson et al. investigated API pollution in 137 rivers across the world and showed that the River Clyde in Glasgow is in the top 10% of the polluted rivers tested, with an API concentration of ca. 10,000 ngL-1. These APIs are non-biodegradable, and accumulate in the environment, having an adverse effect on wildlife, and in the case of antibiotics, increasing bacterial resistance.
It is imperative that we address both problems to preserve our environment for the continuation of a healthy existence, providing food, clean air, and water. This project combines and builds upon our work on the mechanochemical synthesis of APIs, and the work of Kümmerer, redesigning API molecules, rendering them biodegradable. We have preliminary results employing TSE to synthesise, on large scale and under solvent-free conditions, known APIs whose structure has been modified to make them biodegradable (with shorter life spans in the environment), whilst retaining their pharmacological activity. This will eventually be applied to a large library of APIs, having a significant impact on the pharmaceutical industry, environment, and society.