Our scientists are on a mission: to discover new medicines while reducing the environmental impact of their manufacture, supply and use.
This is part of our overall environmental sustainability goal across our business, to bring in greener practices and reduce our carbon impact. Our long-term goal is for our entire ‘value chain’ – which includes supply, product distribution to customer, customer use of product and then product end of life - to be carbon neutral by 2050.
It's not easy being green
No simple set of measures will enable us to achieve these targets and many diverse approaches are needed. Our ‘green chemistry’ initiative is one of these.
A specialist chemistry unit, created in 2012, is on call to help our R&D research scientists come up with ways to make our medicines using greener processes. For example, choosing solvents (used in the chemical processes) that can be recovered and recycled in an energy efficient way - rather than disposed of by incineration - means fewer supplies are needed, less goes to waste and there is less impact on the environment.
The team, which spans sites in the UK and the US, is looking to introduce a wide range of advances, from eliminating potentially harmful waste products, to using greener solvents and reagents (substances or compounds that bring about a chemical reaction). They’ve already developed guides to help teams to make environmentally sustainable choices and are influencing solvent and reagent choices across all of our labs.
And it’s not just our specialist chemistry unit that is looking to make medicines ‘greener’. Another team, looking at the chemical synthesis and manufacture of one of our experimental medicines, has recently seen successes such as:
- using greener methods of chemistry: materials that are less toxic, easier to dispose of or recyclable
- working with processes that need less material and produce less waste
- developing ways to recycle the solvents used in chemical processes
- implementing a new waste water treatment system
- using fewer products and packaging
As a result, we have been able to cut by 80% the volume of water and zinc we were sending to waste, and 21.5 million fewer tablets and 850,000 fewer plastic bottles have been produced for use in clinical trials.
Over the product lifecycle, the team will have saved an estimated 600,000 tonnes of CO2 emissions, the equivalent of over 3,200 trips to the moon - and back - in a family car.
Green chemistry academic partnerships
We are also looking to the future and forming partnerships with leading universities to support more research in Green Chemistry.
Our pioneering partnership with Nottingham University - announced in 2010 - will see the construction of a new facility at the University which will focus on the development of green chemistry. Work on the facility is underway and is scheduled for completion in January 2015.
The facility will support academic teaching and research in the field of green chemistry, to develop cleaner and safer chemical processes that produce products of equal quality in more efficient ways.
This is a wonderful opportunity to work with the best of Brazilian talent to explore opportunities for more sustainable solvents, reagents and feedstocks, including those from renewable resources.
More recently, we have formed a new collaboration with the São Paulo Research Foundation (FAPESP) to create a new Centre of Excellence for Sustainable Chemistry in São Paulo, Brazil. The Centre of Excellence will focus on sustainable chemistries most relevant to the discovery and development of medicines.
Once the new centre in São Paulo is established, it will work with The University of Nottingham to facilitate the sharing of knowledge and expertise between Brazilian and UK researchers.