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Green chemistry at the core of pharmaceutical research

More sustainable raw materials and efficient processes are essential in the manufacture of pharmaceuticals, so that we can respond to the crisis of climate change and loss of biodiversity. Orion’s long-term work to promote green chemistry is reflected in its sustainable production methods and improved safety and cost-effectiveness. Patient safety is our priority while we develop our process development.

Green chemistry aims for naturally harmless processes

The term ‘green chemistry’ was coined by Paul Anastas in the United States in 1998. Green chemistry aims for the use of safe and environmentally friendly raw materials, in addition to ensuring that as much of the raw materials as possible are contained in the final product. It is based on renewable raw materials and energy sources and energy-efficient processes.

Green chemistry is at the core of pharmaceutical research and drug development at Orion. In early-stage research, hundreds of different molecules are produced before a suitable candidate molecule can be found that meets the safety criteria. Initially, the volumes produced are small, but once a suitable molecule is found that can be used as a pharmaceutical ingredient, the volumes required increase from milligrammes to kilogrammes. As the volumes produced grow, safe and sustainable manufacturing becomes increasingly important.

Green chemistry is also reflected in the way a molecule is produced. Orion’s subsidiary Fermion is developing an industrial-scale manufacturing process for pharmaceutical ingredients in line with the principles of green chemistry. When optimising the manufacturing process, those solvents and reagents are chosen that least burden the environment, human health and safety. The quantities of materials used are optimised and kept as small as possible. Environmental considerations and economic benefits go hand in hand.

Patient safety is a top priority for Orion. In the manufacture of pharmaceutical ingredients, the quality requirements are stringent, which limits the implementation of the principles of green chemistry in the pharmaceutical sector. The pharmaceutical ingredient to be produced must be pure and safe for humans. This is why Orion has, for example, limited the use of recycled solvents in production, so that not even the smallest impurities are transferred between processes.

A vision for the future – biodegradable medicines

The environmental impact of pharmaceuticals is a growing global problem. Pharmaceuticals and their metabolites are released into bodies of water as a result of the use of medicines. Some of the medicines on the market degrade slowly in nature and can have adverse impacts on living organisms.

In the future, environmental impacts must be taken into account more comprehensively in the development of new pharmaceuticals. Today, new pharmaceuticals undergo an environmental assessment to determine their impacts on nature. Several national and EU-funded projects are looking for solutions to reduce the environmental life cycle impacts of medicines and improve the sustainability of the pharmaceutical sector. Orion is involved in many of these projects. In the future, when medicines are released into the environment, they must degrade into smaller units that are safe and pose no risk to living organisms.