March 2015 Blog

March 2015 Blog – by Bert Maes

Being a partner in the IMI CHEM21 consortium makes one sit back and reflect on the way things are currently being done in a typical research lab and whether one can make meaningful improvements on sustainability in an academic setting. After all, one is normally concerned with sustainability when focusing on the “on-scale” production of chemicals in chemical development and production units, not in R&D labs where typically small quantities are used. Developing new sustainable synthetic methods for fine chemicals production, as the Antwerp team does, does not necessarily imply that the CO2 footprint of the lab itself is just fine. Several changes have been made to the “day-to-day” functioning of my laboratory (ORSY) since the start of the IMI CHEM21 project. Firstly, we have chosen to adopt the GSK solvent selection guide. The guide has been posted throughout the laboratory and has changed the way graduate students and postdocs select solvents for their daily activities. Previously, no-one routinely gave much thought to the greenness of a particular solvent when starting up a reaction. Secondly, we have also adopted a chromatography solvent recycling program in an effort to reduce our waste output. Our initial protocols for recycling heptane based mixtures through simple distillation for re-use in chromatography have allowed us to build confidence in the potential success of a large scale solvent recycling program, uncommon for academic labs. Ultimately, this has led to the purchase of an automated spinning-band distillation apparatus, which allows us to set our sights on recycling a large share of our solvent waste streams, thereby reducing our CO2 footprint. Thirdly, we have worked towards further segregating all waste streams in the laboratory (e.g. chemical, paper, plastics, metal, glass), reducing our true “chemical” waste output and allowing us to re-purpose useful items. The latter is also a reflection of a Flemish mentality; as Flanders is known to be a European champion in household waste recycling. The introduction of the “Being Green” segment in our weekly group meetings has become an ideal opportunity to have open discussions on how one can improve sustainability in daily lab activities and it has become a forum through which fundamental changes in attitude have been made possible. After all, none of these “green” improvements would be attainable by simply imposing new lab rules as a group manager: self-analysis and co-operation on the part of every ORSY member have been key factors in making a success of our efforts to improve sustainability. The whole of society actually needs to go through a similar process of introspection with respect to sustainable living. Developing an awareness of how one does things on a daily basis and what one can improve is the first step. A lot of small changes make a huge contribution to the whole. One should not merely point out what others must do, but each individual must begin with themselves! I think CHEM21 has a pioneering role to fulfill in this respect within the European Union.

Bert Maes

University of Antwerp


Reflections on CHEM21 Progress as we near the midterm point of the funding cycle

Blog June 2014 – Simon Dolan – CHEM21 Project Co-Ordinator

The consortium is now 18 months into its 4 year funding programme. When I was asked whether I would like to be part of and co-lead CHEM21 with Nick Turner back in October 2012 I was apprehensive as you can imagine of the scale of the challenge.  Bringing together 19 affiliates from academia and industry to focus on a wide range of sustainable technologies has its challenges not least of which was to recruit and deploy over 35 investigators knowing that the funding clock is about to start ticking.  Indeed it took us the best part of 2013 to come up to full speed, but at our first Scientific Advisory Board meeting held on the 15th May 2014 it was clear that we were starting to make significant progress on many fronts.  As I reflect on the output and feedback from that meeting my own thoughts were one of growing excitement not just at the science but  importantly how we were seeking to work together as team and really starting to examine synthetic problems in a holistic way a from a chemical, biological and engineering combined perspective.

One of the key strengths of the consortium is its diversity, but how best to focus scientists of many different backgrounds and disciplines to work in multidisciplinary teams.  To do this we have selected a number of ‘Essential medicines’ as targets to apply new methodologies in an integrated way.  These are typically small molecules that are off patent but in themselves are still significant medicines from a WHO perspective being used to treat disease threats from Malaria, TB etc.  Working in teams of chemists, molecular biologists, microbiologists and industrial biotechnologists creates an opportunity to tackle pharmaceutical manufacturing problems in a very different and unique way.  What is emerging from this ‘collision’ of different backgrounds and perspectives are some significant opportunities to combine a variety of new methodologies to substantially improve sustainability.  While all this is very encouraging, it is the translation of these methodologies from the bench into a large scale pilot plant setting that is the real proof of the versatility and importance of these new methods for the benefit ultimately of the patient with better quality and more sustainable products.  So as well as bringing the researches together to address current synthetic challenges we are also now in a position to select and scale up some of these new methods for example in areas of CH activation, hydrogenation or fluorination in batch or flow.  This is a very exciting point in the lifecycle of this consortium as the EFPIA partners combine to make this possible.

I am also very encouraged by the setting up of our young researcher network lead by York University.  This network is the engine room of CHEM21 and now has regular meetings to discuss results, brainstorm ideas for ‘Essential Medicines’, look at new ways of capturing and sharing data (for example though our new reactions database being set up by Leeds University) and evaluating whether our new technology is not only versatile but greener as well.

Finally, I also reflect on the possibilities of creating easy access to new molecular templates for medicinal chemistry.  This is a very active part of our research programme, in particular by Orion Pharma and Pfizer.  Ultimately, if we can succeed in providing new methods for the creation of the candidate molecule back into Discovery, then the Development organisation has a good starting point to scale up these molecules in an efficient way.

All in all, I’m very grateful that 18 months ago I accepted this challenge to work with some outstanding and highly collaborative individuals and teams.  I’m really looking forward to the second half of this project and I am not at all apprehensive now that we have laid the foundation for a highly collaborative and integrated consortium.

Simon Dolan – CHEM21 Project Co-Ordinator

1st Winter Process Chemistry Conference in Leeds, 16-18 December 2013

Several members of Chem21 recently attended the 1st Winter Process Chemistry Conference held at the University of Leeds. The conference had excellent attendance and a range of interesting talks spanning synthetic chemistry, process design and scale-up to Design of Experiment and modelling. The invited speakers also included some Chem21 members including Prof. Matthias Beller from the Leibniz Institute for Catalysis, Prof. Bert Maes from the University of Antwerp, Dr Kai Rossen from Sanofi and Prof. John Blacker from University of Leeds. Several members of the Chem21 Young Researchers Network also presented posters at the conference, with Ryan Gorman, a Chem21 PhD student with Richard Taylor at the University of York, winning the poster competition – Congratulations Ryan.

conference attendeesBert Maes TalkexhibitionRyan + poster

CHEM21 Kickoff Meeting

Pharmaceuticals and universities working together on multi-million pound project

Europe’s largest public-private partnership dedicated to the development of manufacturing sustainable pharmaceuticals has been launched. It’s being led by The University of Manchester and the pharmaceutical company GlaxoSmithKline.

The €26.4 (£21.2M) project, CHEM21, brings together six pharmaceutical companies, 13 Universities and four small to medium enterprises from across Europe. The aim is to develop sustainable biological and chemical alternatives to finite materials, such as precious metals, which are currently used as catalysts in the manufacture of medicines.

Introducing biotechnology to the manufacturing processes for medicines will limit the drain on the world’s resources and have a lasting benefit on the environment.

Professor Nicholas Turner from The University of Manchester commented “This is a unique opportunity for academic groups to work alongside pharmaceutical companies and specialist SMEs to develop innovative catalytic processes for pharmaceutical synthesis. We believe that challenging problems of this nature are best solved on a pan-European basis by bringing together under one roof the combined expertise of many groups to establish a world-class research hub in catalysis and sustainable chemical synthesis.”

CHEM21 will run initially for four years with funding from the Innovative Medicines Initiative. The project will establish a European research hub to act as a source of up-to-date information on green chemistry. It will also develop training packages to ensure that the principles of sustainable manufacturing are embedded in the education of future scientists.

Commenting on the news, John Baldoni from GlaxoSmithKline said: “Improving the sustainability of our drug manufacturing processes through collaborations such as CHEM21 will not only reduce our industry’s carbon footprint, but will provide savings that can be reinvested in the development of new medicines, increase access to medicines through cost reduction and drive innovations that will simplify and transform our manufacturing paradigm”

CHEM21 launched in October and work is already underway on this ground breaking project.

Other members of CHEM21 are: (EFPIA member companies) Bayer Pharma AG, Berlin, Germany; Janssen Pharmaceutica NV, Beerse, Belgium; Orion Corporation, Espoo, Finland; Pfizer Limited, Sandwich, UK; Sanofi Chimie, Gentilly, France; (Universities) Leibniz Institute for Catalysis, Rostock, Germany; Stichting VU-VUMC, Amsterdam, Netherlands; Technische Universität Graz, Graz, Austria; Universität Graz, Graz, Austria; Universität Stuttgart, Stuttgart, Germany; Universiteit Antwerpen, Antwerp, Belgium; University of Durham, Durham, UK; University of Leeds, Leeds, UK; University of York, York, UK; (Small and medium-sized enterprises – SMEs) CatScI Ltd, Wentloog, Cardiff, United Kingdom: ACIB GmbH, Graz, Austria; Charnwood Technical Consulting Ltd, Quorn, UK: Evolva Biotech A/S, Copenhagen, Denmark; Reaxa Limited, Leeds, UK. CHEM21 has received funding from the Innovative Medicines Initiative Joint Undertaking under grant agreement n°115360, resources of which are composed of financial contribution from the European Union’s Seventh Framework Programme (FP7/2007-2013) and EFPIA companies’ in kind contribution.

Participants at the CHEM21 kickoff meeting

Participants at the CHEM21 kickoff meeting

Professor Nick Turner is available for interviews.

Please contact:

Morwenna Grills
Media Relations Officer
Faculty of Life Sciences
The University of Manchester

Tel: 0161 275 2111
Mobile: 07920 087466
Email: Morwenna.Grills[AT]

CHEM21 Kickoff Meeting

Pharmaceuticals and universities working together on multi million pound project

Europe’s largest public-private partnership dedicated to the development of manufacturing sustainable pharmaceuticals has been launched. It’s being led by The University of Manchester and the pharmaceutical company GlaxoSmithKline.

Participants at the CHEM21 kickoff meeting

Participants at the CHEM21 kickoff meeting

For further information, see the press release.