Developing greener inhalers for treating asthma and COPD

Researchers are looking at ways to boost the performance and lower the environmental impact of millions of inhalers used for treating asthma and COPD.

Part of our COP26 campaign to highlight research that benefits the environment

Working with Kindeva – a drug manufacturer based in Loughborough – and jointly funded by UKRI Innovate UK, the University is developing a new way to deliver medication to the lungs via an inhaler using greener propellants.

Lead researchers Dr Hendrik Versteeg and Professor Weeratunge Malalasekera, of Loughborough’s School of Mechanical, Electrical and Manufacturing Engineering, are developing computational techniques that model how the drugs are inhaled and delivered to the lungs.

The aim of the project will be to reduce the amount of CO2 released by canisters, which is estimated to be about 8.91 million tonnes per year worldwide.

A single 13g canister will produce around 18.6g of CO2 a year – the equivalent of a 65-mile car journey.

The pharmaceutical industry must phase out all pMDI (pressurised metered-dose inhaler) products by 2016, and replace them with products based on propellants with a lower Global Warming Potential (GWP). 

Dr Versteeg said: “This project seeks to develop the engineering science background behind the new generation of inhalers that is needed.

“The GWP of the propellants HFC134a and HFA227ea, which are currently used in inhalation products, is 1430 and 3220, respectively. And the target GWP for CO2 is 1 – so they are powerful greenhouse gases.

“The main candidate to replace them is HFA152a, which has recently been approved by the FDA (US Food and Drug Administration) for clinical trials.

“It has a GWP of 124, so that’s at least a 90% improvement on the impact on global warming if all HFC134a based inhalers are successfully replaced by inhalers based on HFA152a.”

According to Asthma UK, 5.4 million people in the UK are being treated for asthma, and the British Lung Foundation estimates that 1.2 million people are living with diagnosed chronic obstructive pulmonary disease.

In addition, more than 480 million people worldwide use inhalers to help with respiratory problems.

Dr Versteeg said: “The pressurised metered dose inhalation products we are researching comprise about half of the worldwide market for lung disease, so 100’s of millions of patients will be using them.

“The work is important because the disease of many asthma and COPD patients is stabilised by the medication delivered by these products.   

“This propellant changeover will need a huge effort and cost, but the changeover in the 1990s and 2000s from CFC products to HFC134a and HFA227ea brought significant product improvements.”


Notes for editors

Press release reference number: 21/225

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