Skip navigation

My name is William Frost, and I am a rising senior at Bucknell University pursuing degrees in both chemistry and economics. Throughout two years of high school chemistry and an intensive three years of college chemistry, the word green has never really come up. The science is so process-and-product-driven that it becomes easy for students and professors alike to think about nothing else. The most the subjects of sustainability or environmental justice have come up in my classes is through the discussion of material costs or the question of whether or not “I can throw this stuff down the drain.” Otherwise, it has always acted as a nuisance to process-planning or a barrier to a quick cleanup.

 

It was not until I applied to an internship with the Green Chemistry Institute at the American Chemical Society that it was brought to my attention. I did some initial, bare-bones research and came to the conclusion that it was essentially sustainable chemistry. I have always understood that sustainability is one of the more pressing issues of my generation, so I thought it could be a really cool experience and applied.  After successfully obtaining the internship, I was thrown straight to work, and I started during the most exciting time of the year.

 

That week, we prepared for the annual Green Chemistry and Engineering (GC&E) Conference which was to make its 21st appearance. I had the opportunity to participate in the conference as a staff member, which included helping the team in any way I could, but attending many of the sessions and networking events during my free time. It was a phenomenal atmosphere: 507 students, teachers, industrialists and pharmaceutical scientists attended the three-day conference.

 

I learned that green chemistry is about so much more than chemistry’s place in sustainability. There is no one single definition you can put on the subject because it permeates all aspects of chemistry. Every sub-sector of the science can incorporate green chemistry in some way, as it is the implementation of sustainable, green practices to better the daily life of those currently living and to leave a thriving world for the generations to come.

 

The conference was an incredible place to be. There was not a single person I met –and I was able to meet a lot of people – who was not extremely driven in implementing these green practices in their work. As a student at the event, it was encouraging to see the collaborative efforts of everyone at the conference, whether it be in discussing the ways that people could provide information to help a study or simply introducing someone to new ideas.

 

I attended sessions that included very technical green organic chemistry research projects, social and environmental justice discussions, circular economy innovations, and much more. Every session had an interesting topic and engaging speakers, making the most complicated of topics understandable for someone as naive as I was going into the conference.

 

Networking sessions were incorporated into every day. I found myself meeting people at meals, poster sessions and a pub crawl. There were professional as well as casual settings in which to get to know many of the people deeply involved in the advancement of green chemistry and those who “wore similar shoes” to my own.

 

It is a conference I plan on attending again next year as I have now learned the importance of its implementation in chemistry around the world. Chemists have always been well-intentioned, but the side effects of what we do can no longer be ignored. They are evident in the chemical crises you hear about around dump sites as well as the increasing temperatures inducing global warming.

 

One of the more staggering facts I learned was that some 90 percent of chemical feedstocks come from petroleum sources. That’s 90 percent of the chemical derivatives that chemists use coming straight out of the ground from a non-renewable source. These are the issues we must address: Can we find ways to prevent the waste from ever-generating, find an efficient way to use bio renewable feedstocks, and develop safer chemicals in the first place?

 

It is essential that people, scientists and all others learn about the green ways we can do chemistry. It is not all toxic and hazardous as many people think. Chemicals are not a bad thing as many ‘chemical-free’ products will tell you. ‘Chemical-free’ simply cannot exist as chemicals are the foundation of everything we are and everything we know. It must be understood that chemistry is where this problem began, but chemistry is exactly where we will see it end.

 

Find a way to make all of this a part of your life. It is time people became less scared of chemistry and got more involved in finding ways to solve these problems – which is no easy task as I quite fully learned during my three days at the GC&E Conference.

 

There are many ways to get involved and many levels on which to do so. The ACS Green Chemistry Institute® is the best place to start. It provides you with educational, informational and professional resources, but getting involved does not stop there. There are activist groups like Beyond Benign and NESSE who are working on finding the best ways to introduce people to these new ways of seeing chemistry. Start here to find the way all of this motivates you, and let that push you to help accomplish milestones great toward a great and necessary cause.

 

 

“The Nexus Blog” is a sister publication of “The Nexus” newsletter. To sign up for the newsletter, please email gci@acs.org, or if you have an ACS ID, login to your email preferences and select “The Nexus” to subscribe.

 

To read other posts, go to Green Chemistry: The Nexus Blog home.

Drugs are expensive. That is something the whole world can agree on. People are spending too much on drugs and an unprecedented amount of population does not even have access to medications in the first place. Diminished access to drugs may stem from many factors, but one is certainly the expense of manufacturing the drugs. Now, scientists are addressing this by redesigning the processes with new technology — making it simpler and much more cost effective to produce drugs.

 

Collaboration between divisions, a pressing issue to the progression of process development, is facilitated at the annual Green Chemistry and Engineering Conference hosted by the ACS Green Chemistry Institute®. Themed sessions are held to bring together people with similar studies and motivations to foster a more united effort in our advancements to a greener and more sustainable future for all. One session in particular showed much potential for growth in this field. Continuous chemistry, quite possibly at the forefront of advancement, is being used to develop new and innovative synthetic processes to make medications more accessible around the world.

 

One of the talks at the Green Chemistry and Engineering Conference came from Frank Gupton, Ph.D., from Virginia Commonwealth University. Gupton was provided a grant from the Gates Foundation circa 2013 to found the Medicine for All Initiative (M4ALL), which has the goal of reducing medication costs while improving patient access to medications through the transformation of the pharmaceutical manufacturing industry.1 Since its founding, Gupton has enlisted help from the University of Washington and MIT in pursuing his efforts. The initiative focuses on the redevelopment of generic drugs. These are drugs that have outgrown their patents and have been fully vetted by regulatory institutions.4

 

Means of Change

Chemists find that the main cost drivers of generic drug prices are found in the starting materials, active pharmaceutical ingredients (API), and the type of production method used (batch vs. flow).1 The issue around starting materials is one observed in all divisions of chemistry as we begin to uncover the limited availability of many of the essential elements used in the chemical reactions seen in academic, governmental and pharmaceutical labs. As economics teaches us, when a low supply meets a high demand, prices will rise.

 

APIs are the costliest part of generic medications. These account for 65 to 75 percent of their selling price.4 The API is the ingredient that is biologically active, allowing a drug to serve its purpose within the human body, making it crucial to the overall utility of a medication. These have become exceedingly expensive, causing the drug companies themselves to begin outsourcing their production.3

 

The prices attached to each of these components are mainly dependent on economic factors, which make it hard for chemists to come up with many alternatives aside from developing novel methods of using less expensive starting materials or cheaper production methods. The former is an issue many green chemists are finding themselves working on as they attempt to find ways to utilize renewable biomass feedstocks rather than the limited, cheaper petroleum ones vastly used in today’s market.

 

As for the latter, there is a more efficient method of drug development that has been implemented in academic research labs across the world and is starting to grain ground in the pharmaceutical industry. Most drugs are currently manufactured under a batch process, which involves specific quantities of solvents, reactants and catalysts finding themselves in a container where the reaction is allowed to proceed.2

 

The alternative to this, as discussed at the Green Chemistry and Engineering conference, is continuous, or flow, chemistry, where reactions are done under constant motion. Rather than looking at stoichiometric ratios, we now have the ability to use flow rates to determine the yields of our chemical reactions. Under batch conditions, each reaction is different in its own way, but with flow you are capable of developing a more normalized synthetic method where you have complete control of all variables and can change them quickly at will.

 

This method has yet to be implemented in industry with the strength and vigor it deserves. This is not due to a lack of desire to make the change, but more a lack of the ability to do so. According the Dr. Gupton, the two main barriers come from cultural expectations and legacy investments. The issue with culture is due to how used to batch processes chemists are. Flow is more familiar to engineers who do not do most of the work in process development. Investors, on the other hand, resist change when something is working well. In a profit sense, the batch process works just fine. Regardless of the barriers to implementation, the work must be done somewhere where the benefits can be seen. This is exactly what Dr. Gupton and the M4ALL initiative is doing.4

 

Advances

A major success for the initiative was achieved in the development of a new synthetic process for the HIV drug Nevirapine. The condition of their grant was to reduce the cost of this drug by 10 percent. What they did reduced it by 40 percent.4

 

M4ALL has reached a global scale as they have been recruited by the government of the Côte d’Ivoire to help develop flow chemistry infrastructure that allows the country to develop its own medications, greatly increasing domestic access. The country has experienced much turmoil in the recent past and is exposed to a multitude of diseases. Development of this infrastructure will greatly improve the lives of its citizens and the future of the country.4

 

Women and men like Dr. Gupton and all the others who presented their research at the Green Chemistry and Engineering Conference are paving the path for future drug development processes. It is now our duty to encourage, help or act in any way we can to progress this science. The future relies on our adaption to sustainable and cost-effective techniques, and it is not through the effort of scientists alone that this will be achieved. Visit the ACS Green Chemistry Institute® site to find ways in which you can help advance the valiant efforts of scientists on the bench who cannot do their work without the help of others.

 

1 "Medicines for All Institute Initiative Advising & Introductions." The Arcady Group. N.p., 14 May 2017. Web. 21 June 2017.

2 Porta, Riccardo, Maurizio Benaglia, and Alessandra Puglisi. "Flow Chemistry: Recent Developments in the Synthesis of Pharmaceutical Products." Organic Process Research & Development (2015): n. pag. ACS Publications. Web.

3 Stone, Kathlyn. "What Is an Active Pharmaceutical Ingredient?" The Balance. N.p., n.d. Web. 21 June 2017.

4 "Dr. Frank Gupton." Telephone interview. 21 June 2017.

 

 

“The Nexus Blog” is a sister publication of “The Nexus” newsletter. To sign up for the newsletter, please email gci@acs.org, or if you have an ACS ID, login to your email preferences and select “The Nexus” to subscribe.

 

To read other posts, go to Green Chemistry: The Nexus Blog home.

Filter Blog

By date: By tag: