The research team, lead by Maaike Kroon, at Delft University of Technology has worked on a novel ionic liquid method to manufacture levodopa, the most common drug treatment for PD sufferers.
PD is a lucrative market for drugmakers, with an ever-growing elderly population, and levodopa remains the cornerstone of therapy despite being first introduced decades ago. Kroon's drug production method promises to reduce cost, waste and production time for levodopa, with an estimated yearly €11.3 million based on energy consumptions between the conventional versus the ionic liquid method.
"We found that the amount of energy for recompressing carbon dioxide is only 25 per cent of the amount of energy necessary for evaporating methanol in the conventional method and calculated the amount of euros saved on energy consumption and waste generation per kilo product. By multiplication with the yearly amount of drug produced, we got the value of €11.3 million," explained Maaike Kroon.
The PD market grew by 6.9 per cent between 2004 and 2005, while global costs for PD treatment, mobility and dementia combined, was in the excess of $3.4 billion. In total, PD is thought to affect 4-6 million people worldwide, with 10,000 people diagnosed in the UK every year.
Kroon's method combines reaction and separation processes, with an extremely pure end product. The method combines ionic liquids and supercritical carbon dioxide through two processes:
Reaction process: The researchers dissolved levodopa raw materials in ionic liquid - fluid salts - that acts as clean solvents. Carbon dioxide was added under high pressure, which forced it to take on properties of both a gas and a liquid, while he contents got fully mixed; and
Separation process: The research team reduced the pressure and evaporation of a gas mixture (carbon dioxide and production material), followed. The end product separated into a solid or liquid form.
Kroon claims there are no technical start-up barriers for the industry to take on the novel method. Ionic liquid is often portrayed as environmentally friendly, in that it saves energy and leaves no waste.
"Our method produces less waste and is energy-saving but one has to think about the whole production cycle. Yes, it's "greener" but so far ionic liquid production still has a way to go," said Maaike Kroon.
The Dutch researchers are now in the process of applying the method to anti-inflammatory drug production.