Students Work with Drug Maker for the Environment

Rowan University (Glassboro, N.J.) chemical engineering students may help make a drug that eases the pain of arthritis sufferers gentler on the environment.

Students Anthony Furiato, Kyle Lynch, and Timothy Moroz have been working with Pfizer, Inc. to improve the environmental profile of the manufacturing process for the active ingredient in the top-selling arthritis pain medication Celebrex® .

Working with scientists and engineers from the company's Global Manufacturing Division headquarters in New York City, its Global Engineering group in Peapack, N.J., and its manufacturing site in Barceloneta, Puerto Rico, the student team is evaluating alternative approaches for solvent recovery. The objective is to reduce the net quantity of solvent waste from the manufacturing process.

The Rowan team has been working with several Pfizer personnel, including Dr. Daniel R. Pilipauskas (director/team leader, Active Pharmaceutical Ingredient Development Team), Frank J. Urbanski (director, Engineering Technology), Greg Hounsell (senior manager, Process Engineering), and Jorge Belgodere (manager/team leader, Manufacturing).

The project is one of several engineering clinic projects in which students are exploring green manufacturing strategies for pharmaceutical companies in the region. Started with funding from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency in 2005, the partnerships are seeking to improve process efficiency through green engineering design. Pfizer is sponsoring this clinic project through its Green Chemistry initiative. Mariano Savelski, Ph.D., and C. Stewart Slater are advising the student clinic team.

"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," Savelski said.

Students presented their mid-term results in January to Pfizer management in New York City.

"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," said Hounsell.

The students are using computer simulations to predict the performance of their proposed solvent recovery operating schemes. Some of the separation methods the team is considering are distillation, extraction, membrane pervaporation, and molecular sieve adsorption. They also are using a computer model to show how recovering the solvent improves the environmental footprint of the process and reduces greenhouse gas emissions.