The profen family belongs to the most important non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs). A considerable number of biocatalytic processes for the synthesis of optically pure (S)-profens have been proposed. Despite of the excellent enantioselectivity and the large advantages that enzyme catalysis offers in terms of sustainability, biocatalytic processes have failed so far to meet the technical and economic challenges of commercialization. This critical review outlines recent trends and developments of novel applications that appear very promising in terms of enantioselectivity, efficiency, sustainability and yield. Special emphasis is placed on the contribution of protein engineering in overcoming the limitations of these enzymes for technical applications, and thus providing promising biocatalysts for the preparation of pharmaceutical products. The natural catalytic diversity, assisted by modern methods of protein engineering, provides novel concepts and leads for the environmentally friendly synthesis of pharmacologically important drugs. Considerable progress can be expected in the coming decades. Furthermore, aspects regarding ecological footprints and the impact of each biocatalytic route are critically addressed, considering aspects like the type of solvent, waste produced, availability of substrate, etc. When possible, suggestions for combining efficiency with more sustainable synthetic approaches are also given.
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