Intelligent Assessment of Pharmaceuticals in the Environment
Ongoing | IMI1 |
iPiE project logo


Start Date
End Date
IMI1 - Call 11
Grant agreement number

Type of Action: 
RIA (Research and Innovation Action)

IMI Funding
3 000 000
EFPIA in kind
6 140 464
1 204 552
Total Cost
10 345 016


Minute amounts of the active ingredients in medicines get into the environment in a variety of ways. However, we still know little about what happens to medicines after release into the environment and what effect they have on wildlife. Although measures are in place to limit the environmental impact of new medicines, more research is needed in this important area. The iPiE project’s goal is to develop a framework that will provide methodologies to prioritise new and existing medicinal compounds for a comprehensive environmental risk assessment. As such it will support and inform regulatory activities designed to assess and reduce the environmental impact of medicines.

The active ingredients in medicines (known as the active pharmaceutical ingredient, or API) can be released into the environment in a variety of ways. The most common route is via the sewage system, when patients excrete them. APIs can also escape into the environment when people dispose of medicines incorrectly, and during the manufacturing process. APIs are, by definition, biologically active, and although their concentration in the environment is generally extremely low, there are concerns about the effect of these chemicals on wildlife and ecosystems in general.

Since 2006, new medicines have had to undergo an environmental risk assessment before they are approved for use. However, current testing strategies need to be optimised to accurately predict harmful impacts on wildlife.

Furthermore, there are over 3 000 APIs that were already in use before the new rules came into force, and just a small number of these have been subjected to environmental impact testing. As testing all of these will be a mammoth task, guidance is needed to help identify which of these ‘legacy’ APIs are most likely to pose a risk to the environment and so should be prioritised for testing.

New, better methodologies for assessing environmental risks

The goal of the iPiE project is to develop frameworks to support the environmental testing of new pharmaceuticals and to help prioritise testing of legacy APIs. The frameworks will draw on information such as existing data on the environmental impact of APIs, toxicological studies, computer models, and studies of how medicines work.

Part of the project focuses on identifying existing methods for carrying out pharmaceutical environmental risk assessments. The project is also compiling a database that will include information on both APIs and test organisms. Another priority for the project is the development of new models for estimating exposure to APIs; this will take account of questions such as how much of an ingredient gets into the environment, how fast it is broken down, and the extent to which is accumulates in different parts of the environment. These methods will feed into the development of an exposure assessment tool that can be used to screen APIs under development and prioritise which existing APIs should undergo enhanced testing. In addition, the project plans to develop methods to predict the effects of APIs on different organisms in both terrestrial and aquatic environments. All models developed by the project will be validated experimentally.

User-friendly software and guidance

An important component of the project involves integrating the databases and methods developed into a user-friendly iPiE software system. Researchers will be able to carry out both simple searches and more advanced analyses based on scientific hypotheses. Accompanying guidance will demonstrate how the software can be used to both screen new APIs and prioritise testing of existing APIs.

Building on the work of other IMI projects

The iPiE project will draw heavily on the work of two existing IMI projects: eTOX and Open PHACTS. The iPiE database will be modelled on the eTOX database, which contains detailed information on the toxicity to humans of many existing APIs and so includes some fields required for the iPiE database. Another part of the iPiE project entails delving into publicly-available information, and for this iPiE will use the expertise of Open PHACTS, which specialises in this area.

A lasting impact

The iPiE project will make it easier for researchers to evaluate the potential impacts of new medicines in the earlier stages of development. It will also facilitate the identification of medicines that have never undergone environmental assessment yet could pose a serious risk to wildlife and the environment. Ultimately, by ensuring that APIs are developed and used in an environmentally sustainable way, the project will contribute to the health of the natural environment.

Achievements & News

Join the iPiE project’s final event
March 2019

IMI’s iPiE project on the impacts of pharmaceuticals in the environment will hold its final conference on 24-25 June in York, UK. ###Since its launch over four years ago, the iPiE project has worked to develop frameworks that utilise information from toxicological studies, pharmacological mode of action and computational tools to support intelligence-based environmental testing of pharmaceuticals in drug development and to prioritise legacy pharmaceuticals (those authorised prior to the 2006 enactment of Medicines Agency requirements) for targeted environmental risk assessment and/or environmental (bio) monitoring. The project’s closing event will act as a forum to disseminate the results of the project while also providing opportunity to others working on the prioritisation and intelligent assessment of pharmaceuticals, to present their work.

iPiE releases database on environmental aspects of drugs
July 2018

IMI’s iPiE project has released an online tool that summarises the properties, environmental toxicity and characteristics of active pharmaceutical ingredients (APIs). Dubbed, iPiE*SUM (‘iPiE Summary Database Search’), the tool is designed to allow public and regulatory bodies to obtain a high-level overview of what studies were collected during the iPiE project and what eco-toxicity data and studies are available.### APIs can be released to the natural environment during the manufacturing process, following use by patients, or when unused medicines are disposed of inappropriately. The goal of iPiE is to develop a framework that will provide methodologies to prioritise new and existing medicinal compounds for a comprehensive environmental risk assessment. As such it will support and inform regulatory activities designed to assess and reduce the environmental impact of medicines.

iPie database releases ECOdrug database
December 2017

IMI’s iPie project has released ECOdrug, a new database that connects drugs to their protein targets across different species. The team hopes the tool, which is freely accessible at www.ecodrug.org, will help industrial, academic and regulatory scientists to assess and manage the risks associated with pharmaceuticals in the environment. ###Medicines are designed to interact with specific targets (e.g. proteins) in the human body. Very often, these targets have equivalents in other species, especially those that are closely related to humans.

The ECOdrug database draws on data from multiple sources and has information on over 600 species, including other primates, rodents, birds, fish, microscopic animals, fungi, and plants. The user-friendly interface has two tabs – one for drug-related information and one for drug targets. A search of a drug name brings up a table showing the targets of the drug and how well they are conserved across different species. Similarly, a search by drug target uncovers links to all drugs that target that protein, and the interface shows an evolutionary tree showing the numbers of species in different groups that have an equivalent to the drug target.

Looking to the future, the project plans to improve ECOdrug further by integrating it with other platforms. The tool is described in detail in a paper in the journal Nucleic Acids Research. The authors conclude: ‘Through integration with the systems outlined above, the addition of new features and regular updating we aim to ensure ECOdrug is maintained as a valuable and contemporary research tool for the communities in drug discovery, comparative and evolutionary biology and (eco)toxicology.’

Participants Show participants on map

EFPIA companies
  • Astrazeneca AB, Södertälje, Sweden
  • Bayer Aktiengesellschaft, Leverkusen, Germany
  • Boehringer Ingelheim Internationalgmbh, Ingelheim, Germany
  • Bristol-Myers Squibb Company Corp, Princeton, NJ, United States
  • Eli Lilly and Company Limited, Basingstoke, United Kingdom
  • F. Hoffmann-La Roche AG, Basel, Switzerland
  • Glaxosmithkline Research And Development LTD., Brentford, Middlesex, United Kingdom
  • Janssen Pharmaceutica Nv, Beerse, Belgium
  • Merck Sharp & Dohme Corp, Whitehouse Station, New Jersey, United States
  • Novartis Pharma AG, Basel, Switzerland
  • Pfizer Limited, Sandwich, Kent , United Kingdom
  • Sanofi-Aventis Recherche & Developpement, Chilly Mazarin, France
  • Teva Pharmaceuticals Europe B.V., Amsterdam, Netherlands
Universities, research organisations, public bodies, non-profit groups
  • Fundacio Institut Mar D Investigacions Mediques Imim, Barcelona, Spain
  • Helmholtz-Zentrum Fur Umweltforschung GMBH - Ufz, Leipzig, Germany
  • Lhasa Limited, Leeds, United Kingdom
  • Liverpool John Moores University, Liverpool, United Kingdom
  • Stichting Katholieke Universiteit, Nijmegen, Netherlands
  • The University Of Exeter, Exeter, United Kingdom
  • Universidad Pompeu Fabra, Barcelona, Spain
  • University Of York, York, United Kingdom
Small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs)
  • Ect Oekotoxikologie GMBH, Flörsheim a.M., Germany
  • Molecular Networks GMBH Computerchemie, Erlangen, Germany
  • Synapse Research Management Partners SL, Barcelona, Spain
Non EFPIA companies
  • Umweltbundesamt, Dessau-Roßlau, Germany
Project coordinator
Reinhard Laenge
Bayer AG
Managing entity
Ferran Sanz
Fundació Institut Mar d’investigacions Mèdiques (IMIM)
Academic coordinator
Alistair Boxall
University of York
Project management office
Montse Camprubi
Synapse Research Management Partners