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Chemical manufacturing methods for the 21st century pharmaceutical industries


The CHEM21 project plans to generate a range of methods to make the drug development process more environmentally friendly. What’s more, as well as being good for the planet, the methods developed by CHEM21 will also help the pharmaceutical industry to cut costs, resulting in cheaper medicines for patients.


Towards more sustainability in drug manufacture

Today, drug manufacture often requires 100 kg of materials to produce just 1 kg of active ingredient. This inefficiency means that many products require long lead times and large facilities for their production and to deal with any waste materials. This is not just bad for the environment; medicines produced in this way are expensive to develop and produce.

Meanwhile, another emerging issue for the pharmaceutical sector is the scarcity of precious metals, like platinum, that are essential in the synthesis of many drugs but are being depleted at alarming rates.

Solving these problems will require a major revision in the way drugs are synthesised.

Smarter synthesis

CHEM21 will link leading academics in the field of green chemistry with scientists working in drug synthesis in industry to tackle the challenges found in the commercial manufacture of drugs.

Specifically, the CHEM21 project aims to generate a range of technologies for medicines manufacture that are demonstrably more sustainable that existing methods. Part of the project will be devoted to designing catalysts based on common metals (such as copper, iron and nickel) instead of the rarer and more expensive precious metals used now. The team also aims to reduce the amount of solvent used and develop methods that favour starting materials that result in less harmful waste. An additional aim of the team is to provide new tools for medicinal chemists which are greener and are robust for scaling up.

Elsewhere, the project plans to boost the use of enzymes as catalysts and to investigate what steps are needed to implement synthetic biology for the sustainable production of more complex molecules.

In addition to promoting green and sustainable methodologies among current medicinal and process chemists, CHEM21 wants to make ‘green’ drug production second nature for the next generation of scientists in this area. To this end, the project will develop and disseminate educational material, case studies, and reviews and trial them in selected universities and EFPIA companies.

Cheaper medicines for patients

Inefficient production processes and the use of rare precious metals raise the costs of drug production. By making drug production more efficient and swapping expensive materials for cheaper alternatives, CHEM 21 will help to lower the cost of medicines.


Achievements & News

CHEM21 – the University of York on screen during Chemistry Week
To celebrate Chemistry Week, researchers at the University of York released a series of short films about how PhD students participating in IMI’s CHEM21 project are working towards a greener pharmaceutical industry. CHEM21 (full name ‘Chemical manufacturing methods for the 21st century pharmaceutical industries’) aims to ###generate a range of methods to make the drug development process more environmentally friendly. The methods developed by CHEM21 will also help the pharmaceutical industry to cut costs, resulting in cheaper medicines for patients. CHEM21 started in October 2012 and will last for 4 years. Chemistry Week was a themed week of events promoted by the UK’s Royal Society of Chemistry (RSC), running from 16 to 23 November. The event is held every two years to promote a positive image of chemistry and increase public understanding of the importance of chemical science in our everyday lives. This year’s theme for Chemistry Week was health.
   - Watch the videos on the Green Chemistry at York YouTube channel.
(Novemver 2013)



  • GlaxoSmithKline Research and Development Ltd, Brentford, UK
  • Bayer Pharma AG, Berlin, Germany
  • Janssen Pharmaceutica NV, Beerse, Belgium
  • Orion Corporation, Espoo, Finland
  • Pfizer Limited, Sandwich, UK
  • Sanofi Chimie, Gentilly, France

Universities, Research Organisations, Public bodies & non-profit

  • University of Manchester, Manchester, UK
  • 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


  • ACIB GmbH, Graz, Austria
  • CatScI Ltd, Wentloog, Cardiff, United Kingdom
  • Charnwood Technical Consulting Ltd, Quorn, UK
  • Evolva AG, Reinach, Switzerland
  • Reaxa Limited, Leeds, UK  

Facts & Figures

Start date 01/10/2012
End Date 30/09/2016
Contributions  €
IMI funding   9 829 638
EFPIA in kind 14 168 017
Other  3 035 536
Total Cost 27 033 191

Links and Documents

IMI Funding per participant

Project website:


Project Corodinator
Simon Dolan
GlaxoSmithKline Research and Development Ltd
Tel: +44 1438 763659
E-mail: simon.c.dolan[AT]

Managing Entity
Nick Turner
University of Manchester
Tel: +44 161 306 5100
E-mail: Nicholas.Turner[AT]