GSK aims to slash carbon emissions with next-generation inhaler

Joining drugmakers like AstraZeneca and Novo Nordisk, GSK is making big strides in its quest to clean up its carbon footprint.

GSK plans to start late-stage trials of a low-carbon version of its metered dose inhaler (MDI) Ventolin utilizing a next-generation propellant in 2024, the company said Tuesday.

If the product—used to treat respiratory conditions like asthma and COPD—proves successful, it has the potential to slash greenhouse gas emissions from Ventolin use by roughly 90%, GSK said.

Some 35 million patients globally rely on Ventolin as their rescue medication, GSK points out. But the drug accounts for 49% of GSK’s current carbon footprint, and it also contributes to the carbon footprint of global health systems.

To tackle this issue, GSK has been working to redevelop its inhaler by switching to a lower-carbon propellant. The next-generation propellant has been under technical development for several years and tested extensively to ensure it’s suitable for MDIs and patient use.

If GSK’s phase 3 trials are successful, the company could begin regulatory submissions for the new Ventolin inhaler beginning in 2025, the company said.

Developing a low-carbon inhaler is a “complex” undertaking, requiring both clinical and non-clinical programs, plus establishing new manufacturing facilities, GSK said. Recently, GSK confirmed plans to leverage its site in Evreux, France, to produce the inhaler. The company says it’s ready to “start supply quickly,” should GSK’s plans pan out in the clinic and with regulators.

When it comes to inhaled medicines, there are two main types of devices: metered-dose inhalers like Ventolin, which use a propellant to administer the drug into the patient’s lungs, and dry powder inhalers (DPI), which are propellant-free.

To cut down on greenhouse gas emissions, GSK is supporting efforts to increase the use of DPIs. That said, there are instances when the use of MDIs is “medically necessary” or preferred by the patient, as is the case with Ventolin.

GSK’s low-carbon inhaler campaign builds on the company’s existing pathway to net zero, which includes the company's commitment to cutting carbon emissions by 80% by 2030 and a 90% reduction by 2045. All told, GSK is investing £1 billion between 2020 and 2030 to hit its sustainability targets.

Environmental sustainability has become a major focus for pharmaceutical companies in recent years, with drugmakers like GSK, AstraZeneca, Merck KGaA, Novo Nordisk, Roche, Sanofi and Samsung Biologics setting bold goals to reduce their greenhouse gas emissions.

Aside from greener production facilities, sales fleets and more, sustainable drug delivery devices have become a common feature of these plans.

When AstraZeneca unveiled its Ambition Zero Carbon program back in 2020, for instance, the company said part of its $1 billion pledge would go toward developing next-gen respiratory inhalers with almost no negative impact on global warming.

Meanwhile, Novo Nordisk has been repurposing many of its spent insulin pens as office furniture like chairs and lamps under the Danish drugmaker’s PenCycle program.