US drug giant Pfizer hopes that its collaboration with student engineers at New Jersey's Rowan University will help lessen the environmental impact of its best selling arthritis drug Celebrex (celeboxib).
Rowan students Anthony Furiato, Kyle Lynch and Timothy Moroz have been working with Pfizer engineers to evaluate better methods of recovering solvents used during manufacture of the product at the company facilities in Barceloneta, Puerto Rico. The overall aim of the project is to reduce the amount of greenhouse gases that the solvent recovery project creates.
Since 1996, Pfizer has implemented an in-house standard requiring the conservation of energy and reduction of greenhouse gases. In 2002, the firm became a member of the Climate Leaders Program, which is a collaboration between the United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and industry that aims to develop long-term, comprehensive climate change strategies.
Green Chemistry initiative
The partnership, which is being part funded by the EPA, is one of several that the university established in 2005 that seeks to improve process efficiency by using "green" engineering design. Pfizer is co-sponsoring the project through its Green Chemistry initiative.
University project leader Dr Mariano Savelski commented that "most of the clinic projects have students working with an engineer from one corporate site, but in our project students have interacted with Pfizer scientists and engineers from manufacturing in New York City, engineering in New Jersey and plant operations in Puerto Rico."
Pfizer's senior manager of process engineering, Greg Hounsell, said that "student work to date has been quite impressive. Their ideas for various processes are beneficial to us as we explore alternative methods for waste minimization to improve the environmental footprint of the process and make the operation more economical."
Frank Urbanski, Pfizer's director, engineering technology, explained that in addition to providing the students with an opportunity to apply their newly acquired engineering skill-base to a very real situation the project has also given them "some perspective on the unique challenges faced by engineers in the pharmaceutical industry that will be of value to them as they begin their professional careers."
The project is focused on the use of computer simulations to predict the performance of proposed solvent recovery schemes. The team is assessing various separation methods, including: distillation; extraction; membrane pervaporation; and molecular sieve adsorption.
They group is also employing the technology to demonstrate how improving the solvent recovery process improves the environmental footprint of the process, in terms of its reduction of greenhouse gas emissions.