Water plays a vital role in a broad range of processes within the pharmaceutical industry, from its use as a reagent and solvent in drug synthesis, to its utilization in formulation development and analytical testing, all the way through to product packaging and labeling. Each application has its own specific water quality requirements; the water used for hemodialysis, for example, should undergo significantly more intensive purification than that used for rinsing glassware. Equally, to minimize unnecessary costs, it is often economically preferable to ensure water is not purified beyond the level that is required. As a result, pharmaceutical companies must employ a range of treatment and monitoring processes to ensure the impurities present in water do not interfere with its intended use.
However, safeguarding the quality of water for pharmaceutical applications is an evolving challenge, requiring pharmaceutical companies to stay up-to-date with the latest threats. The chemical and biological impurities present in water are continually changing, reflecting societal shifts in the way this essential resource is utilized. In recent years, greater industrial water use and the widespread application of chemistry-based water treatment and purification steps have led to an increase in the complexity of water chemistry, including the emergence of new impurities in municipal water supplies.
In response, ongoing improvements in analytical technology are helping scientists better understand how water impurities can impair key pharmaceutical processes. Thanks to innovative techniques and more sensitive monitoring systems, these advances are leading to the development of more robust and efficient technologies for water purification.
Pharmaceutical water treatment: An evolving and increasingly costly challenge
With the cost of bringing drugs to market already under strain, the growing complexity of municipal water chemistry poses a serious challenge for the industry. The need to more intensively treat municipal water to ensure it is suitable for use adds further costs to drug development efforts—costs that are ultimately passed on to healthcare payers and potentially put the sustainability of the drug development pipeline at risk.
A significant contributing factor to the increasing complexity of municipal water chemistry stems from the limitations of traditional purification techniques. Many municipal water treatment approaches involve the addition of chemical reagents to eliminate harmful impurities. Chlorine-based disinfectants, for example, are widely used in municipal water treatment to make supplies safe from biological contaminants and oxidize organic compounds. However, these strategies commonly result in the formation of byproducts or chemistries that must themselves be removed further down the pipeline. Consequently, chlorine and other similar reagents must be eliminated before the water can be used for many pharmaceutical applications.
Functionalized materials, such as activated carbon, are widely used to dechlorinate municipal water supplies through a combination of adsorption and catalytic conversion. However, these materials are limited in the amount of chlorine they can remove, and their effectiveness can be reduced through poisoning by other organic compounds or if their pores become physically blocked. The growing complexity of water chemistry therefore means alternative solutions are required to effectively—and cost-efficiently—ensure water quality for the pharmaceutical industry.
Ongoing advances in pharmaceutical water purification technology
Fortunately, ongoing improvements in water treatment and monitoring technologies are supporting the development of more efficient and effective purification processes. Novel filtration systems such as those based on graphene can overcome many of the limitations of traditional functionalized materials. By offering a much greater surface area, these advanced materials can hold impurities for longer and are more able to resist chemical poisoning and fouling.
Other advances in water purification technologies, such as the latest electrochemistry-based strategies developed specifically for the pharmaceutical industry, are also delivering more reliable supplies for end users. These electrochemical approaches purify water by generating oxidants and other chemicals that are short-lived and have little to no impact on many of the most common pharmaceutical applications. Systems based on UV photo-oxidation, for example, reliably reduce the content of microorganisms and organic compounds to ultra-low levels, providing water that is suitable for even the most sensitive experiments. These high-performance yet chemically benign approaches are helping drug developers achieve the reliable grade of water they need, without the complexity and expense of more intensive chemical treatment techniques.
The growing complexity of municipal water chemistry poses a serious challenge for the pharmaceutical industry—one that threatens to exacerbate ongoing concerns around the high cost of bringing safe and effective medicines to market. However, thanks to innovative advances in point-of-use water purification technology, including the latest electrochemical methods, pharmaceutical companies are well placed to limit the operational and financial impact of this evolving challenge.