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New Method to Achieve Greener, Eco-Friendly Pharmaceutical Sector

Fast advances in the chemical sector are linked to two things: one is the depletion of natural resources and growing environmental concerns, while the other is the increase in environmental awareness.

Green, eco-friendly chemistry has a highly significant role to play in the sustainable chemical sector.

Led by Professor Riina Aav, the TalTech Supramolecular Chemistry Group published a study on the applications of mechanochemistry in the ACS Sustainable Chemistry and Engineering journal.

Professor at TalTech’s Division of Chemistry, Riina Aav. Image Credit: TalTech

Mechanochemistry, a branch of chemistry, focuses on the effects triggered by mechanical action on chemical reactions. These reactions occur effectively in the solid-state phase and thus do not necessitate the use of solvents that produce toxic residues. It has been gaining momentum as a highly significant branch of chemistry, particularly in the field of green and sustainable technology.

Our Supramolecular Chemistry research group is currently one of the most active research groups in this field in Estonia, investigating in depth how to expand the possible applications of the mechanochemical method in the chemicals industry. As chemists, we see this method in particular as a good solution for environmentally friendly synthesis. This means that it is now possible to produce chemicals much faster and completely residue-free.

Riina Aav, Study Author and Professor of Chemistry, TalTech

Of the pharmaceuticals made in the chemical sector, 25% include an amide bond. Such pharmaceuticals comprise, for example, drugs for the treatment of cardiovascular diseases (Lipitor® or atorvastatin), antibiotics (chloramphenicol and penicillin or Oftan Akvakol), analgesics (Ibuprofen analogs), as well as cancer drugs (methotrexate and, inter alia therapeutic peptides such as carfilzomib (KYPROLIS)).

So far, solvents have been used to traditionally make such drugs in the chemical sector. In a mechanochemical process, chemical substances are ground without using any solvents.

However, this implies that no poisonous waste typical of solvent-based process is produced; moreover, the entire process can occur tens of times faster (for example, the needed active ingredient is produced within one hour, while the analogous solvent-based reaction needs 24 hours).

I would like to point out that we were able to replace the organic catalysts used so far with an inorganic one to achieve the result, because dissolution of components is not necessary in mechanochemical synthesis. This further reduced our carbon footprint.

Dzmitry Kananovich, Study Co-Author and Senior Researcher, Supramolecular Chemistry Group, TalTech

Kananovich added, “We also studied the mechanism of the mechanochemical process, and the results show that the formation pathways of amides or peptides, which are essential for the manufacture of pharmaceutical products, are similar to the ones involved in protein formation in our bodies. The mechanochemical method developed by us is much simpler—the necessary elements are ground and the product obtained is washed with water.”

It is a quicker and much more eco-friendly chemical method than the solvent-based process. Furthermore, this method can be applied to create new molecular receptors biotin[6]urils, which researchers intend to apply as “chemical noses” to create residue-capturing molecular containers.

The developed method is great news for chemical and pharmaceutical industry, who are interested in sustainable and residue-free chemical technology solutions not only in the production of medicines, but also food supplements, detergents and other products.

Riina Aav, Study Author and Professor of Chemistry, TalTech

Aav continued, “Our research group is a member of the European Cooperation in Science and Technology action ‘Mechanochemistry for Sustainable Industry’, which will hopefully ensure practical application of the mechanochemical methods in the chemical industry in the near future.”

Journal Reference:

Dalidovich, T., et al. (2020) Mechanochemical Synthesis of Amides with Uronium-Based Coupling Reagents: A Method for Hexa-amidation of Biotin[6]uril. ACS Sustainable Chemistry and Engineering.


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