16 April 2010
Drug discovery, such as that described above, can often require the use of large amounts of chemicals, which can have a detrimental effect on the environment. In fact, it is estimated that each year the pharmaceutical industry generates over 240,000 tonnes of toxic waste from the organic solvents and associated chemicals used to make target compounds.
To address this issue in the Immunoglycomics programme, PhD student Emma Dangerfield has developed novel (green) methodologies for the synthesis of imino sugars, a class of drugs currently used in the treatment of a variety of diseases. Her approaches are not only greener than many (using solvents such as water and ethanol instead of petrol), but also yield high quantities of drugs in fewer steps, thus reducing the total amount of waste generated. The compounds are synthesised from renewable, naturally occurring starting materials (sugars), and are easy to purify because there are fewer contaminants to have to remove at the end.
To date Emmas methodology has been used to prepare potential drug compounds for the treatment of tuberculosis, cancer and diabetes. Emmas methodology, which has been patented, was published in the international journal of Organic Letters last year.
Although the optimisation of greener strategies is an on-going process, we are excited about the opportunities that this research brings and the realisation that it is possible to find new ways to treat disease and care for the environment at the same time.