Industry News: Melbourn says acetonitrile shortage is a wake-up call

05 Dec 2008

As many solvent suppliers have recently announced restrictions on supply of acetonitrile - a by-product from the automotive industry that is widely used in the pharmaceutical industry for analysis - contract pharmaceutical research organisation, Melbourn Scientific, stresses that there are alternatives that are equally effective and less harmful to the environment and it is launching a new service that would assist companies in minimising the impact of this shortage.

Steve Westcott, Managing Director of Melbourn Scientific has been encouraging clients, ranging from large pharmaceutical companies to early stage biotech, to consider 'green chemistry' for some years and sees the shortage of acetonitrile as the spur the industry needs to reconsider its selection of solvents.

"Acetonitrile is a popular choice for liquid chromatography, a technique widely used to determine potency and impurity levels in drug analysis. It is chosen because it dissolves a wide range of compounds without complications and has low acidity and minimal chemical reactivity. However, it can be toxic in certain conditions and needs careful handling.

"For several years now we have been encouraging clients to reduce the amount of solvents used in analytical method development. This has involved using newer techniques such as ultra high performance liquid chromatography (UHPLC) or new HALO column technology which use smaller volumes of solvent and generate data more quickly."

It is expected that the shortage will continue, at least in the short term, and the pharmaceutical industry could begin to suffer should the situation continue over the next months.

"As a major contract research organisation with a wide client base we have developed varied strategies to ensure continuity of support, but where possible the option of reassessing methods could lead to a reduction in the overall demand for this product which is to everyone's benefit," Steve said.

The shortage of acetonitrile has occurred as it is a by-product from the manufacture of polyacrylonitrile - a raw material used in the manufacture of plastics for the automotive industry, which is experiencing a slowdown.

Melbourn Scientific provides method development, validation and formulation expertise, and in light of the current shortage, is offering to provide a fast turnaround service to redevelop and revalidate client methods utilising alternative solvents or by minimising the amounts of acetonitrile used.

It has recently redesigned its laboratories in Cambridgeshire to be more ergonomic, which has improved efficiency in project delivery but has also reduced the amount of consumables used, reduced the amount of equipment on standby, cut the amount of reagents and solvents used, and provided improved onsite sorting of waste for recycling.

Melbourn's environmental policy is supported by its belief in growing its own talent - encouraging school leavers to consider a career in pharmaceutical analysis and supporting them through university.