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New tool for calculating carbon footprint of medicines launched

A tool that calculates the carbon footprint of medicines has launched after being awarded £730,000 in funding through the Small Business Research Initiative (SBRI).

Sustainable medicines company YewMaker has created the Medicines Carbon Footprint (MCF) formulary, a free tool which provides the per-dose carbon footprints for over 4,000 medicines.

Users can compare the medicine carbon footprint ratings and determine their medicine carbon emissions for reporting purposes.

This is part of a wider offering of data called MCF classifier, which also includes a tool to measure medicine carbon emissions for reporting purposes.

In the method review paper for the tool, published as a preprint in The Lancet, meaning it is in the early stages of research before peer review, its founders said the tool had the potential to ‘catalyse changes needed to align better healthcare and net zero commitments’.

It said: ‘Healthcare accounts for 5% of global greenhouse gas emissions, with medicines making a sizable contribution. Product-level medicine emission data is limited, hindering mitigation efforts. To address this we created MCF Classifier, a suite of applications to estimate, classify, benchmark and visualise small molecule medicine carbon footprints.

‘We developed MCF method, an automated pipeline using molecular weight and chemical structure to estimate the process mass intensity and global warming potential of the active pharmaceutical ingredient in small molecule medicines.

‘This allowed us to estimate medicine carbon footprints per dose, which we categorised into MCF ratings, accessible via a searchable web application, MCF Formulary. We performed data comparisons and sensitivity analyses to validate the ratings, and stratification analyses by therapeutic indication to identify priority areas for emission reduction interventions.’

On its website, YewMaker added: ‘To enhance usability we stratified the emissions per dose into four categories, called MCF ratings: low (<10gCO2e per dose), medium (≥10-100), high (≥100-1000), very high (≥1000).’

Dr Matthew Sawyer, a GP who runs the sustainability consultancy SEE Sustainability, and was an author on the preprint article, said: ‘We’ve known for a few years what the carbon footprint of inhalers are because of the prepared gases, but we’ve not known it for medicines. But we do now as of about a month ago when it launched.

‘Anybody in the UK can now go online and have a look at what is the carbon footprint of omeprazole, a statin or an antibiotic and see whether it’s low, medium or high in terms of carbon footprint.

‘It gives a clue to where we can go with our efforts to reduce the environmental impact of medication.’

The tool received funding from the accelerated access collaborative (AAC) through SBRI Healthcare, which was set up by NHS England to accelerate innovative technologies in the NHS and the wider health and social care system.

In February 2023, it announced it had awarded £6m to 18 innovations focused on a greener NHS, including £729,638 for MCF Classifier by YewMaker to focus on the carbon footprint of medicines.

At the time, Matt Whitty, chief executive of the AAC, said: ‘The SBRI Healthcare awards help the NHS to develop new technologies and solutions to address some of the biggest healthcare challenges facing society.

‘We have selected these innovations because they have the potential to make a big difference to patients while also helping to achieve a net zero NHS. By supporting the most promising innovations the NHS will continue to evolve, helping meet more patients’ needs and encouraging more innovators to come forward with ideas that make a difference.’

This article was originally published as an exclusive by our sister publication Healthcare Leader.

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