How prioritising sustainability efforts yields long-term growth in drug manufacturing

sustainable medical drug manufacturing

The pharmaceutical industry is at a pivotal juncture. While recent advancements in gene therapy and GLP-1 drugs signal the potential for significant growth, the sector faces challenges stemming from legislation changes, funding, and supply chain stability. Amid these complexities, a critical yet often overlooked factor is sustainability.

Sustainability is integral at every stage of pharmaceutical manufacturing, from research and development (R&D) to treatment delivery. The industry’s substantial environmental footprint - producing over 200 million metric tonnes of CO2 emissions and more than 300 million tonnes of plastic waste annually - demands immediate and sustained action. For executives, prioritising sustainability is not only a moral imperative, but a strategic one, essential for improving revenues, reducing costs, and fostering innovation.

Pharmaceutical companies that invest strategically in sustainability initiatives will differentiate themselves in a competitive market. Implementing these practices ensures a robust and long-term market position, enabling stakeholders across the value chain to overcome post-COVID challenges, innovate, and secure a more sustainable future for the industry.

Advancing technology to drive sustainability

Achieving sustainability requires an examination of every operational layer. This process reveals opportunities to implement green chemistry principles, revamp harmful manufacturing techniques, and innovate outdated methods. Optimising these processes can lead to significant cost savings and improved efficiency.

Green chemistry techniques leverage renewable resources, reduce waste, and eliminate toxic reagents and solvents throughout the pharmaceutical manufacturing process. Though these principles are often focused on active pharmaceutical ingredient (API) synthesis, they also apply to drug product manufacturing, formulation development, packaging, and delivery.

For instance, drug developers are adopting fusion-based amorphous dispersion techniques over solvent-based techniques to meet the growing demand for poorly soluble drugs, significantly reducing harmful solvents and operational waste.

Technological advancements play a pivotal role in enhancing sustainability within the pharmaceutical industry. Innovations in processing technologies, particularly those used to generate amorphous solid dispersions (ASDs), are transforming drug development and manufacturing, significantly impacting sustainability efforts.

ASDs are crucial for improving the bioavailability of poorly soluble drugs. Traditional methods, such as spray drying dispersion (SDD), often rely on organic solvents, which have a substantial environmental impact. Commercial spray-dried products use an estimated 8,000 metric tonnes of solvent per year. The growing utilisation of more toxic solvents, such as dichloromethane (DCM) and tetrahydrofuran (THF), exacerbates environmental concerns due to their poor solvent solubility, with new molecules coming out of the discovery pipeline. These solvents contribute to air and water pollution and pose significant health risks to workers and communities.

The need for alternative, greener technologies is pressing. Fusion-based technologies represent a significant advancement in this area. These technologies reduce environmental impact and enhance drug bioavailability by eliminating the need for solvents. This approach addresses environmental concerns, simplifies manufacturing processes, reduces costs, and accelerates development timelines.

For example, high-energy fusion techniques can rapidly mix APIs and excipients, forming stable amorphous dispersions in a matter of seconds. These methods reduce operational waste and require fewer production resources than traditional solvent-based processes. Furthermore, the absence of solvents simplifies regulatory compliance and reduces the need for extensive EH&S management systems.

By leveraging advanced fusion-based technologies, pharmaceutical companies can produce high-quality ASDs with better sustainability, scalability, and performance. These innovations align with broader industry goals of reducing carbon footprints and promoting environmental responsibility without sacrificing formulation performance.

Despite funding challenges during the pandemic, there has been a resurgence in investment in such sustainable technologies. According to IQVIA, the industry is witnessing a steady increase in funding for technology-driven sustainability initiatives. Investors recognise that these innovations offer superior risk-adjusted returns and align with broader sustainability goals.

Building a sustainable and resilient supply chain

According to Deloitte, over 70% of emissions from life sciences and healthcare companies originate in their supply chains. Developing a sustainable supply chain is crucial for minimising waste, energy consumption, and greenhouse gas emissions, while reducing costs and enhancing resilience to external disruptions.

Pharmaceutical companies must scrutinise their supply chains closely, fostering transparent relationships with vendors and stakeholders to achieve end-to-end visibility. Building diverse, agile, and adaptable networks enhances resilience. Partnering with vendors who prioritise sustainability ensures that each component of the supply chain contributes positively to the overall environmental goals. These partnerships can include agreements prioritising using renewable energy, reducing waste, and promoting recycling efforts.

Moreover, companies with greater visibility and control over their supply chains are better equipped to handle regulatory changes and unexpected disruptions. This proactive approach allows them to adapt quickly to new environmental regulations and market demands. Implementing advanced technologies for real-time monitoring and data analytics can further enhance supply chain transparency and efficiency, ensuring that sustainability efforts are measurable and effective.

Supply chain resilience goes beyond meeting immediate production demands; it involves ensuring that the methods used to produce pharmaceuticals are sustainable and adaptable to future challenges. Companies that build resilient supply chains are better positioned to maintain continuous operations, meet regulatory standards, and achieve long-term sustainability goals. Additionally, by implementing sustainable manufacturing practices, companies can lower the cost of goods and total cost of ownership, leading to margin expansion. This strategic approach safeguards the environment and strengthens the company’s market position and competitive edge.

Embracing sustainability for future success

Aligning organisational goals with patient health outcomes is paramount. A steadfast commitment to sustainability involves a comprehensive review of processes, a dedication that stakeholders - patients, vendors, and others - notice and value. Embracing sustainability is a socially responsible and strategic practice that strengthens long-term stakeholder relationships.

Investments in sustainability yield significant financial returns through enhanced revenue and cost savings. Pharmaceutical companies can optimise operations by adopting green chemistry principles, overhauling manufacturing processes, and developing transparent, secure supply chains. This alignment of investor, patient, and innovation efforts drives the continuous improvement of treatment potential and patient outcomes.

Prioritising sustainability is not only an ethical choice, but a strategic imperative for long-term growth and resilience in the pharmaceutical industry. By integrating sustainable practices into every facet of operations, companies can navigate current challenges, capitalise on technological advancements, and secure a prosperous future for themselves and the communities they serve.

Elizabeth Hickman
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Elizabeth Hickman