Published 2021-05-26

This post is also available in Swedish

Mutual learning among carmakers, drug companies and forest industry

Companies from a wide range of industries are collaborating in Mistra SafeChem. To pursue issues of interest to the business sector, and support and learn from one another, they have formed an industry council. This compels the companies to identify joint problem areas and solve the big challenges in the Swedish chemical industry.

Magnus Johansson, researcher at AstraZeneca (AZ) and Associate Professor at Stockholm University, has been involved in Mistra SafeChem from the start and is coordinating AstraZeneca’s work in the programme. The pharmaceutical giant has been involved in various research initiatives in the past. Looking out beyond its own business and creating close collaboration with academic researchers brings great opportunities.

Magnus Johansson, researcher at AstraZeneca and Associate Professor at Stockholm University.

‘This was perfectly timed, given our ambitions in sustainability and green chemistry. We need to learn more about the environmental impact of our medicines and their fate, and create scope to replace chemicals for more sustainable Swedish production. In everyday life, every stakeholder is so focused on its own problems, but in collaborations like this everyone must devote lots of time and effort so that, throughout the chemical industry, we jointly develop our skills and succeed.’

In Mistra SafeChem, an AZ team with wide-ranging expertise is participating. Process chemists and life-cycle specialists from the UK, toxicologists, bioanalysts and — like Johansson himself — organic chemists are working there. The AZ team is at Mistra SafeChem’s disposal in the various projects.

Training the new generation of chemists

AZ is not only contributing a research team. Students in the programme are invited to work in the AZ environment, and Johansson supervises PhD and postdoctoral students. Training the younger generation of chemists in sustainability and green chemistry is an important part of the programme.

In two of the projects involving AZ, the researchers are now well on their way, in terms of catalytic processes to produce new drug candidates and of replacing the two metals platinum and palladium with the first-row transition metals copper, nickel and iron. Johansson also highlights the complexity of conducting drug life-cycle assessments (LCAs) and says they have recently been sending project samples for testing with new LCA methods developed in the programme.

In early 2020, AstraZeneca launched the Ambition Zero Carbon programme, with the targets of eliminating carbon emissions from its global operations by 2025 and ensuring that the whole value chain is carbon-negative by 2030. Photo: AstraZeneca

Volvo, Perstorp and H&M’s knowledge sharing

Industrial partners from a wide range of industries — Volvo Cars, Perstorp, Holmen, H&M and others — are participating in the programme. To boost learning among the programme’s industry representatives, pool results and jointly follow the projects, they have created an industry council. It is headed by Johansson himself and Richard Lihammar, project manager at IVL Swedish Environmental Research Institute.

‘It may sound strange, but as pharmaceutical companies we have many points in common with, for example, carmakers and the forest industry. The plan is also to influence the programme council and programme board in matters where industry sees future needs, but academic partners may not pick up on them.’

Johansson says that the group members also spur one another on, which leads to more opportunities than those put in writing by Mistra SafeChem. The industry also offers a network that, in turn, can engage more partners.

‘The difficulties lie mostly in the fact that the chemical industry in Sweden involves a wide range of research areas — we have to zoom out a long way to find things in common. But at the same time that’s good, because then we solve bigger problems. Being part of Mistra SafeChem also means raising the level of debate in our own company. We get to hear about other companies’ problems and learn from one another through daily interactions with the research groups. That’s one strength of our own research. We need to be there at the forefront, picking up new technologies.’