Blue Light Delivers More-Sustainable Pharmaceuticals

Dec. 7, 2021
New method of creating pharmaceuticals significantly reduces the amount of energy needed and the chemical waste created in the manufacture process.

Chemistry researchers at the University of Bath say they have developed a new method using blue light to create pharmaceuticals in a more-sustainable way, significantly reducing the amount of energy needed and the chemical waste created in the manufacturing process.

Synthesizing small-molecule drugs normally requires several steps, each one creating waste products and solvent waste. These are often toxic and difficult to dispose of safely. Currently, it is estimated that for every kilogram of drug made, around 100 kg of waste is produced, making it a hugely inefficient process, according to the university. The new method uses a catalyst, activated by blue light, to speed up the reaction, and uses fewer steps, less energy and dramatically cuts down the waste created by drug development.

The team at Bath, led by Dr Alex Cresswell, a Royal Society University Research Fellow in the university's department of chemistry, has developed a new way of synthesizing nitrogen-containing chemicals called primary amines, which are used in more than half of all pharmaceuticals. The team tested the method by synthesizing a drug made by Novartis for treating multiple sclerosis (MS). The research is published in the Journal of the American Chemical Society (JACS).

"Making pharmaceuticals can be a wasteful process, with most of that waste being incinerated,” says Cresswell. "Our new process synthesizes α-trisubstituted primary amines using only one step, a goal that has eluded chemists for many years.

"People don't really think about the pharmaceutical industry when it comes to carbon emissions, but some studies have calculated that big pharma emits more than the automotive industry," Cresswell continues.

While the new process is not likely to be adopted straight away by pharmaceutical companies for bulk manufacture of existing drugs, the team hopes that the method might speed up the process of discovery and development of new drugs, by making it easier to synthesize new chemical structures for testing. The team is now collaborating with several pharmaceutical companies to scale up the process.

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