New EU-funded project helping to develop safer, more effective medicines

The EU-funded CORE project is helping to develop safer, more effective medicines by improving the processes pharmaceutical companies use to separate mirror-image pharmaceutical molecules, which will boost the industry's efficiency and competitiveness.

Chiral pharmaceuticals are widely used in clinical treatments and agriculture. They include non-steroid anti-inflammatory drugs, β-blockers for reducing blood pressure, and herbicides and pesticides.

The EU-funded CORE project is equipping a group of 15 early-stage researchers with the tools, know-how and skills required to master resolution, which is the process used to separate chiral molecules.

The researchers are collaborating on the project with academic and industrial experts. While CORE is dedicated to research, it is also intended to encourage young scientists to develop interpersonal and organisational skills and experience. Furthermore, the industrial partners involved in the project are ensuring that the tools being developed will provide them with better, more efficient processes to separate chiral compounds.

The two enantiomers of chiral molecules are mirror images of one another, but usually only one has the intended effect since the body can distinguish between enantiomers. The other enantiomer might even have severe life-threatening side effects. Successful and efficient industrial separation of chiral pharmaceuticals is therefore of vital importance although it remains a huge industrial challenge.

The CORE network is exploring three approaches: expanding the applicability of chiral separation through crystallisation by exploring the variety of crystal forms that chiral compounds exhibit; identifying separation opportunities by developing innovative hybrid processes that combine synthesis and crystallisation; and developing continuous versions of these separation processes that will ultimately be useful to industry. The research covers the fields of chemical engineering, chemistry and applied physics.

To create awareness of the project and its usefulness to industry, the early-stage researchers organised a crystal growth competition at high schools located near the universities hosting the researchers. Pupils were judged on the most interesting and creative crystals grown.

The project is receiving funding from the EU’s Marie Skłodowska-Curie actions programme.

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