Loughborough University is exploring methods of lowering the environmental impact and boosting performance of inhalers used to treat asthma and COPD.
The project is part of its COP26 campaign, which aims to highlight research that can address environmental issues.
Jointly funded by UKRI Innovate UK, Loughborough’s work involves collaboration with drug manufacturer Kindeva. The organisations are looking to develop a new way to deliver medication to the lungs via an inhaler using greener propellants.
Lead researchers Dr Hendrik Versteeg and Prof. Weeratunge Malalasekera, of Loughborough’s School of Mechanical, Electrical and Manufacturing Engineering, are developing computational techniques that model how the drugs are inhaled and delivered to the lungs.
The goal is to reduce the amount of CO2 released by canisters, which is estimated to be around 8.91 million tonnes per year worldwide. A single 13g canister will produce around 18.6g of CO2 annually, the equivalent of a 65-mile car journey, the team said.
The pharmaceutical industry must phase out all pMDI (pressurised metered-dose inhaler) products by 2036, and replace them with products based on propellants with a lower Global Warming Potential (GWP).
Dr Versteeg said that the project seeks to develop the engineering science background behind a new generation of inhalers.
“The GWP of the propellants HFC134a and HFA227ea, which are currently used in inhalation products, is 1430 and 3220, respectively. And the target GWP for CO2 is 1 – so they are powerful greenhouse gases,” said Versteeg.
“The main candidate to replace them is HFA152a, which has recently been approved by the FDA (US Food and Drug Administration) for clinical trials.
“It has a GWP of 124, so that’s at least a 90 per cent improvement on the impact on global warming if all HFC134a based inhalers are successfully replaced by inhalers based on HFA152a.”
According to Asthma UK, 5.4m people in the UK are being treated for asthma, and the British Lung Foundation estimates that 1.2m people are living with diagnosed chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD). More than 480m people worldwide use inhalers for respiratory problems.
Versteeg added that the pressurised metered dose inhalation products the team is researching comprise around half of the worldwide market for lung disease.
“The work is important because the disease of many asthma and COPD patients is stabilised by the medication delivered by these products,” Versteeg said.
“This propellant changeover will need a huge effort and cost, but the changeover in the 1990s and 2000s from CFC products to HFC134a and HFA227ea brought significant product improvements.”