Discuss the value of chemistry in society

For some time in the modern world, and especially subsequent to the events of September 11th, there has been a wave of concern regarding chemistry and its potential destructive powers. There are many people who hold a fearful attitude towards the chemical industry and its products. This is because the threat of chemical and bio-chemical weapons is very real and is a negative aspect of the business. Also it is often deemed environmentally unfriendly and unsafe for the nearby public.

However it is far wider believed that the pros outweigh the cons massively. To display this I have produced a case study on Glaxo Smith Kline.

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Glaxo Smith Kline, based in the UK, is one of the pharmaceutical industry leaders, with an estimated seven per cent of the world’s pharmaceutical market and declare a global quest to improve the quality of human life by enabling people to do more, feel better and live longer. This shows just how people based the company is despite its huge size. GSK is also involved in four major therapeutic areas – anti-infectives, central nervous system (CNS), respiratory and gastro-intestinal/metabolic. In addition, it is a leader in the important area of vaccines and has a growing range of oncology products and treatments. The company also has a Consumer Healthcare section comprising over-the-counter (OTC) medicines, oral care products and nutritional healthcare drinks, all of which are among the market leaders.

Employees and Employment


GSK has over 100,000 employees worldwide. Of these, over 40,000 are in sales and marketing, the largest sales force in the industry. Over 42,000 employees work at 104 manufacturing sites in 40 countries and over 16,000 are in R;D. R;D is based at 24 sites in seven countries. The company has a leading position in genomics/genetics and new drug discovery technologies. The GSK R;D budget is about �2.4bn.


This shows that the industry is a great employer for many job types, including lab technicians, researchers, doctors, I.T. staff, biologists and others. It also employs testers for development of drugs and measure side effects on human patients. This is where much of the development money goes as the patients are only willing to be test subjects for quite large fees due to the potentially harmful side effects.

Health and Safety


They take health and safety really seriously as GSK.

Because a lot of the work that goes on involves highly flammable organic solvents, no heating is done with naked flames (there is only one Bunsen burner in the entire plant, and that is used by the glass blower for shaping pieces of glassware.) In the research labs heating will be done using electric mantles or electrically heated oil baths. However, in the ‘scale-up’ plant, where large volumes of soluble materials are used, even electrical heating is not allowed because of the danger of sparks. Instead they heat vessels by passing a pre-heated liquid through an outer jacket around the vessel. No mobile phones or any electrical equipment are allowed inside in case they generated sparks which could ignite any flammable vapours. In the corridors outside the research laboratories there are emergency showers for people to use in the event of a chemical spillage and Hazard warnings are displayed everywhere.

All chemicals have hazard-warning labels. Most pieces of equipment have warning labels on them. Details of every experiment were displayed where the experiment was carried out. A full risk assessment is done on any process before it is carried out. If any particularly hazardous materials are being used, a notice is displayed on the outside of the lab and entry is restricted to authorised personnel.

In school we sometimes wear gloves when using chemicals. At GSK gloves are used routinely. There are various grades of gloves to chose from, depending on the nature of the chemicals being used. The different grades are colour coded. The researcher has to specify which gloves to use in the risk assessment.


These near perfect safety precautions go a long way to proving that the chemical industry is really very safe and does not pose as much danger to the public as is often thought by many people. With the help of modern technology and careful planning the industry, it has become safer than many school science classes!

Drug Development


GSK spends millions of pounds each year on research and development. It costs something in the region of �450,000,000 to produce a new medicine. The process of developing a new medicine takes about 10 years.

Research usually begins with genetic research, which identifies the proteins involved in the disease.

Then thousands of compounds will be tested to see if they react with the protein involved in the disease. This process is highly automated, using compounds stored in the automated chemical store.

From this the best compound is identified. This will be the compound, which reacts best with the protein. This will not yet be good enough to be used as a therapeutic drug though. It may be too soluble to stay in the body for long; it may be too insoluble to get into the blood stream. It may be toxic, or have other characteristics that make it unsuitable for use as a drug.

The next step is to modify compounds structure so that it has as near perfect properties as possible. For example, to make the compound less water-soluble so that it stays in the body for longer, large organic side groups could be added to the structure. (When penicillin was first discovered it was extremely water-soluble so was very quickly passed out of the body in the urine. Because penicillin was in such short supply it had to be recovered from the urine and recycled!)

Once a suitable compound has been found the next problem is to scale up production from milligram’s to grams then to kilogram’s At this point the drug will need to be tested on living tissue (cells, not usually whole animals)

So far this process will have taken 4-5 years.

Scaling up production has lots of difficulties associated with it. Reactions that work well on a milligram scale may not work on a 20 kg scale. There may be difficulties associated with weighing, heating, stirring, transferring, cooling and purifying. Ways of solving all these difficulties have to be found.

The drug will then enter the clinical trials stage. At first it will only be tested for side effects in a few healthy volunteers. It will then be used in trials in patients with the disease. If successful the drug will then be licensed for use and made generally available. Even after this point the drug must be monitored.


There is a massive amount of money being poured into the chemical industry by investors. This is good for the stock market and the global economy, the employees of the company and the public who will need the developed drugs. It is a very safe system and those who are put at risk do so by their own admission. The testers are paid quite large lump sums for testing if the drug has any side effects and are usually young healthy men and women at university or college. Very little testing on animals is being carried out any more. There is testing on animal tissue, but this is done on a very small scale and animals are rarely harmed. This is a great step for the industry, which for some time has been beset by animal rights groups protesting their actions. Also the time taken for the drug to be developed is good for job stability for the researchers and developers who are needed far beyond the initial stages of production.

Environmental Issues


All solvents are collected in large containers under the benches of each lab. When these are full they are taken away and dealt with in a way appropriate to the particular solvent.

All waste from the labs is treated as being contaminated and is incinerated. The ash from this is disposed of in landfill sites.

Potentially a very large volume of water would be put into the local sewage system. To avoid overloading the system, GSK have installed a recycling system where the water that passes through condensers is reused in a closed system. This also of course saves water. There are no sinks in any of the labs so that nothing can be poured away like is practiced in schools. They are very environmentally friendly.


This is great for the environment as nothing is thrown away. It is all dealt with carefully and the industry is becoming far more eco-friendly than in the past.


From my case study of Glaxo Smith Kline I have found that the industry is in reform. It is becoming far safer and there are many less ethical issues than ever before. Animal testing is low and the environment is finally being preserved. The industry is good for the economy and employs many people from college and university graduates to product test subjects. The pros of chemistry in society far outweigh the cons and this is illustrated perfectly in Glaxo Smith Kline.

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