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Learning About Green Pharmaceutical Synthesis

Posted on 10 October 2019

A recent educational study from the Department outlines an innovative approach to teaching students about environmentally-friendly methods of pharmaceutical synthesis.

This project, developed by Professor Andy Parsons and Dr Graeme McAllister gives students the opportunity to prepare a blockbuster medicine in an authentic context. It has motivated and enthused students and is further enhanced through collaboration with AstraZeneca chemists.

Working in teams of 8–12 people, students synthesise the antiulcer medicine esomeprazole. To provide insight into the modern process chemistry industry, they have to propose, and then perform, environmentally-friendly modifications to the asymmetric oxidation synthetic step.  

To function on a large scale, drug syntheses should be simple, safe and straightforward, as well as causing limited environmental impact. The development of such understanding and skills is of vital importance to the pharmaceutical industry.

Evaluation of the projects demonstrated very positive student feedback, and consistently showed that the project provided students with the key tools to develop ‘greener’ syntheses. The contextual approach of learning about such skills applied to an important drug helps cement the key learning goals. By the end of the project, each team achieved reproducible yields of esomeprazole of over 70 per cent, in an enantiomeric purity of at least 70 per cent.

In addition to giving the students creative input into their experimental work, the project also offers students the opportunity to develop valuable communication and teamworking skills. As part of the project, students have a final review meeting with a chemist from AstraZeneca, where they present a poster, focus on aspects of personal interest and reflect on their learning.

Reflecting on the success of the project, Professor Parsons said:

“It is very rare to have an industrial collaboration lasting over 10 years and this has helped us introduce an authentic context into our teaching programme, that has been shown to motivate and enthuse over 100 of our students. Our most recent AstraZeneca collaborator, Alex, is a Process Chemist, who completed an MChem degree at York and actually selected to do this project during the third year of his degree!”

The Department of Chemistry is committed to delivering high quality, innovative teaching, as reflected in its exceptional scores in the National Student Survey and the high rankings of the Department in university league tables. Practical teaching in York is very innovative and focuses on developing students practical skills in a high-quality laboratory environment.

Our 2019 cohort of students, with framed copies of their posters, together with Alex from AstraZeneca.

Professor Parsons and Dr McAllister’s educational study is published in Journal of Chemical Education and in an ACS LiveSlideTM.