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Free tool detailing carbon footprint of medicines launches

by Beth Gault
29 April 2024

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An online tool that calculates the carbon footprint of medicines has launched allowing practices to more easily determine how they can reduce the environmental impact of medication.

Sustainable medicines company YewMaker has created the Medicines Carbon Footprint (MCF) formulary, a free resource that provides the per dose carbon footprints for over 4,000 medicines.

Users can compare the medicine carbon footprint ratings and determine their medicine carbon emissions for reporting purposes. Ratings are provided for a single tablet/capsule of the product and are dose specific.

Medicine names are used as in the British National Formulary.

The tool is part of a wider offering of data called MCF classifier, which also includes an application to measure medicine carbon emissions for reporting purposes.

In the method review paper for the tool, published as a preprint in The Lancet, meaning it is in the early stages of research before peer review, its founders said the tool had the potential to ‘catalyse changes needed to align better healthcare and net zero commitments’.

It said: ‘Healthcare accounts for 5% of global greenhouse gas emissions, with medicines making a sizable contribution. Product-level medicine emission data is limited, hindering mitigation efforts. To address this we created MCF Classifier, a suite of applications to estimate, classify, benchmark, and visualise small molecule medicine carbon footprints.

‘We developed MCF method, an automated pipeline using molecular weight and chemical structure to estimate the process mass intensity and global warming potential of the active pharmaceutical ingredient in small molecule medicines.

‘This allowed us to estimate medicine carbon footprints per dose, which we categorised into MCF ratings, accessible via a searchable web application, MCF Formulary. We performed data comparisons and sensitivity analyses to validate the ratings, and stratification analyses by therapeutic indication to identify priority areas for emission reduction interventions.’

On its website, YewMaker added: ‘To enhance usability we stratified the emissions per dose into four categories, called MCF ratings: low (<10gCO2e per dose), medium (≥10-100), high (≥100-1000), very high (≥1000).’

Dr Matthew Sawyer, GP who runs sustainability consultancy SEE Sustainability, and was an author on the preprint article, said: ‘We’ve known for a few years what the carbon footprint of inhalers are because of the prepared gases, but we’ve not known it for medicines. But we do now as of about a month ago when this tool launched.

‘Anybody in the UK can now go online and have a look at what is the carbon footprint of omeprazole, a statin or an antibiotic and see whether it’s low, medium or high in terms of carbon footprint.

‘It gives a clue to where we can go with our efforts to reduce the environmental impact of medication.’

The tool received funding from the NHS accelerated access collaborative (via a programme called the Small Business Research Initiative Healthcare), which was set up by NHS England to develop innovative technologies in the NHS and the wider health and social care system.

In February 2023, it announced it had awarded £6m to 18 innovations focused on a greener NHS, including £729,638 for MCF Classifier by YewMaker.

A version of this article was first posted in our sister publication Healthcare Leader