Onyx is now licensed to manufacture commercial API from our UK facility

Driving sustainability in the pharma industry: Onyx’s perspective (Part 1)

The pharma industry significantly contributes to greenhouse gas emissions, primarily due to energy-intensive manufacturing processes and global supply chains. Pharma companies must align with global sustainability goals and the associated legislation changes to ensure the future success of their therapeutics. As the demand for sustainable practices and products continues to rise, the need for pharma companies to align with these objectives is becoming imperative.

By reducing its carbon footprint, the industry can help mitigate climate change, reduce environmental damage and align with world sustainability goals while still maintaining the integrity of healthcare solutions for a growing global population.

In the first of our blogs covering sustainability, Julian Northen, Solid State Manager at Onyx Scientific, at Onyx Scientific, explores the challenges associated with achieving sustainability in pharma, to ensure alignment with sustainability goals and regulations.

The drive to net zero

The pharma industry is increasingly recognising the urgent need to drive toward a net-zero carbon footprint. This desire stems from a commitment to adopting sustainable practices throughout the drug development and manufacturing processes. By investing in green technologies, optimizing energy consumption and minimizing waste, the pharma industry aims to reduce its environmental impact and ensure long-term sustainability for future generations.

Where the main objective of creating pharmaceutical products has been to create life-changing medicines, there is now a growing demand for products that bear a “sustainability stamp.” This stamp signifies a commitment to environmentally conscious practices throughout the product life cycle, from raw material sourcing, through to manufacturing, distribution and disposal.

In the pursuit of environmental responsibility, contract development and manufacturing organizations (CDMOs) play an integral role in ensuring that pharmaceutical products carry this sustainability stamp. They serve as key partners in the pharma supply chain, helping companies navigate the complexities of sustainable drug development. Working alongside CDMOs can help to incorporate green initiatives, responsible sourcing and sustainable manufacturing processes.

Challenges on the road to sustainability in pharma

While sustainability is becoming an increasingly important consideration in the pharma industry, it can present several challenges for drug manufacturers. These include:

  • Sourcing sustainable raw materials
    Pharma companies need to identify and procure sustainable sources of raw materials, including active pharmaceutical ingredients (APIs) and excipients. This can be challenging as it often involves complex supply chains with multiple suppliers, some of which may not have sustainable practices in place. In addition, shipping these materials can be energy-intensive and generate a significant carbon footprint; however, finding more sustainable transportation options can prove difficult, costly and time-consuming.
  • Supply chain transparency
    Manufacturers need to trace the origin of raw materials, monitor the environmental impact of transportation and ensure that each part of the supply chain meets sustainability standards. Achieving this level of transparency can be difficult, especially when many supply chains have a global reach.
  • Waste reduction
    Drug manufacturing can produce a substantial amount of waste. Reducing it and finding sustainable disposal methods can require significant process changes and investments, which stakeholders and company decision-makers may be reluctant to consider. Balancing economic considerations with sustainability goals is a complex challenge the pharma industry faces.
  • Energy consumption
    Drug development and manufacturing are energy-intensive. Reducing energy consumption and considering transitioning toward renewable energy sources can be challenging and costly, especially for older manufacturing facilities that may not have the infrastructure to adapt to new technologies. As these practices may have higher upfront costs, they can influence product prices, resulting in challenges in maintaining competitive pricing.
  • Achieving regulatory compliance
    In addition, meeting regulatory requirements for drug manufacturing is already complex, and adding sustainability criteria can further complicate matters. Pharma companies must navigate a complex web of regulations to ensure their processes and products meet sustainability standards. This is while remaining compliant with drug safety and efficacy regulations, which can be challenging and time-consuming for manufacturers.
  • Extended timelines to market
    By considering implementing sustainability pledges, pharma companies may have to debate whether the cost of delays in drug launches due to developing greener, more sustainable processes is worthwhile, over quicker alternatives. Without suitable regulation, the concern is that these issues may take precedence.

Overcoming these challenges is essential for meeting sustainability goals. This is likely to be achieved with the help of institutional change in terms of pharmaceutical sustainability, which is gaining momentum at the government level. There is a growing consensus that pharma companies should adopt sustainable practices and report on progress, with sustainability as a core business objective. While not all companies will share identical goals, there is a clear trend toward acknowledging the importance of sustainability in the pharma industry.

There has been active legislation and guidance going back decades to encourage sustainable activity; one such initiative being “Responsible Care®” (RC). RC is the chemical industry’s global voluntary initiative under which chemical companies work together to continuously improve health, safety and environmental performance, and communicate this in terms of their products and processes that benefit society. There is also the more recent Regulation on the registration, evaluation, authorization, and restriction of chemicals (REACH), which constitutes the main EU law to protect human health and the environment from the risks that can be posed by chemicals.

Overcoming sustainability challenges

In part 2 of this blog series, Chris Atherton, Commercial Manager, will examine strategies to consider to overcome the challenges associated with implementing sustainability goals. In addition, Chris will discuss Onyx’s approach to sustainability, highlighting how pharma companies can identify and develop a range of strategic targets that promise an immediate and lasting impact on the company’s carbon footprint.

Part 2

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