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Environmental Impacts of Pharmaceuticals: SUDDEN – Tackling Hazards from a Life Cycle Perspective

‐ Apr 26, 2022 4:25pm

Environmental impacts of medicines arise throughout their life cycle from development to production, consumption, and disposal. Residues of active pharmaceutical ingredients (APIs) have effects on living organisms in the environment and can ultimately affect the nature’s biodiversity. Water and energy sources and consumption during manufacturing, the type and amount of packaging materials used, as well as the global supply chains, all contribute to the environmental footprint of the medicines via CO2 emissions and/or by consumption of natural resources. To tackle the multifaceted environmental impacts of pharmaceuticals, the sustainability gaps and solutions need to be addressed in a holistic way. The SUDDEN project, short for Sustainable Drug Discovery and Development with End-of-Life Yield, was launched in 2018 as a multidisciplinary research and interaction effort to seek for new solutions to better management of environmental hazards of medicines on both molecular and product levels, and to promote environmentally sound policies that could support the rational use of medicines and sustainability of the health care sector. The SUDDEN consortium combines researchers from six Finland-based research organizations: University of Helsinki, University of Eastern Finland, LUT University, Aalto University, Finnish Environment Institute SYKE and Demos Helsinki with expertise in drug discovery, pharmacoeconomics, international environmental law and risk assessment, water purification technology, metal and plastic recycling and transformation research. To promote sustainable drug discovery and development enabling the design of pharmaceuticals intrinsically less harmful for the environment in the future, researchers in SUDDEN are developing computational tools to predict the environmental fate of pharmaceuticals as well as new green chemistry methods to promote greener manufacturing. A range of in vitro effects models are also being developed for assessment of bioaccumulation risk in fish. Altogether these tools are foreseen to facilitate cost efficient prediction of the environmental fate of pharmaceuticals in early phases of preclinical drug development and foster the use of non-animal assays for environmental risk assessment purposes. The efficiencies of different treatment technologies are also being investigated to increase our understanding of the persistence/elimination of pharmaceuticals necessary to ensure safe recycling of treated wastewater and/or the sewage sludge for agricultural purposes. Pharmaceutical packaging also has environmental impacts as some of the materials used contain e.g. hazardous plastics (e.g., PVC) or recyclable metals (e.g. aluminum). Research in SUDDEN focuses on developing methods for the processing of blister waste that could facilitate sustainable aluminum recycling. Safe recycling of plastics used in the pharmaceutical primary packages is also evaluated. To tackle the environmental challenges along the life cycle, environmentally sound decision-making is needed on all levels, from individual actions to policymaking. The attitudes of drug consumers toward environmental actions and their willingness to pay for more environmentally sound medicines are thus in the scope of the SUDDEN project, along with adaptation of environmental criteria in public procurement of medicines and evaluation of the legal framework governing global drug production chains. The overall aim of SUDDEN is to identify likewise tangible incentives for pharmaceutical industry and policies reducing the environmental impact of medicines across their life cycle. As the coordinator of the SUDDEN project, the Faculty of Pharmacy, University of Helsinki, is parallelly coordinating a curricula reform in higher education in pharmacy, with the aim of integrating environmental aspects in the professional development programs of future pharmacists, including establishment of professorship dedicated to sustainable pharmacy.


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