Blog 01 Dec 2023 

Navigating the path to a greener pharmaceutical industry

Greenhouse gas emissions from the pharmaceutical industry are 55% higher per dollar of revenue than those emitted by the automotive sector.

Dave Berry

Dave Berry

Director of Digital Business Systems

Like many other industries, pharmaceutical manufacturing has its own environmental challenges. Here, we dive into the innovative solutions being developed at CPI that are paving the way towards a more sustainable future for making medicines.

The pharmaceutical industry plays a pivotal social role by enabling global health, but what about its impact on our planet? As most of us will have had medicine over the course of our life (sometimes the course of our day) asking if pharmaceuticals are produced as sustainably as possible is a conversation everyone should be having – and at CPI most certainly are. 

Making anything generates waste, the journey from raw material extraction to the final product can significantly impact the environment. Pharmaceuticals are no different and though the final product may be small, the environmental footprint is significant. In fact, the numbers are stark: when compared with the automotive sector, greenhouse-gas emissions from the pharmaceutical industry are 55% higher per dollar of revenue – 48.55 tonnes of CO2 equivalent per million dollars in pharma, compared to 31.4 tonnes in automotive. 

However, hard work, recognition of the problem within the industry and innovative solutions are emerging to mitigate these challenges and steer the industry towards a more sustainable future. 

Understanding the current sustainability challenges

Carbon emissions from the pharmaceutical industry occur at various stages in the products’ life cycle. So how are the complexities of pharmaceutical manufacturing responsible for emissions? 

Here is what we know:

Sustainable initiatives

Whilst emissions from the pharmaceutical industry pose a challenge, it is not impossible to overcome. Indeed, the pharmaceutical industry is already on a transformational journey into becoming a more sustainable sector, and CPI is playing a crucial supporting role. Key areas where CPI innovations are making a significant impact include: 

  • Digital twin modelling: At our Medicines Manufacturing Innovation Centre in Glasgow, we are using digital twin modelling to enable virtual trial-runs of pharmaceutical processes. This innovative approach forms a key part of our collaborative project, Grand Challenge 1 and the digital grand challenge. Digital twin modelling enables scientists to better understand and optimise processes in a digital environment, without engaging in costly and time-consuming real-time trials. This reduces waste, speeds up clinical trials, and offers a faster route to market. In our teams’ work we have seen 50% reductions in materials used through trials using this methodology. 
  • Continuous direct compression line: The CDC-line, which is also part of Grand Challenge 1, demonstrates our commitment to supporting the industry shift from batch manufacturing to continuous manufacturing. This enables a more sustainable and efficient alternative to traditional batch processing as the physical footprint is smaller than multiple batch processes (meaning less energy is used in plant upkeep) and you can more readily adapt to multiple products. Meaning one small factory can make more medicines. 
  • Oligonucleotide production: Oligonucleotide therapeutics have shown success in the treatment of rare diseases, but their manufacturing processes are unsustainable. As part of our Grand Challenge 3, CPI has partnered with key stakeholders including UKRI to develop an alternative process that is both more sustainable and scalable. The work in progress involves moving towards a water-based biocatalysis process, which uses enzymes instead of toxic metal-based catalysts. Success in this area will mean that more patients have access to these life-saving oligonucleotide medicines. 
  • Decarbonisation in India: CPI is collaborating with India’s National Chemical Laboratory to drive decarbonisation in the Indian pharmaceutical industry. The partnership, which is supported by £16 million from the UK Government, will aim to do this through reducing energy consumption and minimising waste. Our initial focus will be leading a project that reduces solvent use in continuous chemical synthesis; integrating sensor technologies and rapidly scaling up/​out continuous manufacturing. Thus, enabling us to minimise the use of hazardous chemicals and reduce waste in drug production.

At CPI, we are not just focusing on improving current technologies, but also pioneering future innovations that are more environmentally friendly. This includes the use of novel materials and processes that not only have a lower carbon footprint but will also give the economy a boost. 

Helping the pharmaceutical industry go green is a win-win for everyone. 

The future of sustainable pharmaceuticals

We can’t shy away from the fact that the pharmaceutical industry is a big emitter, for good reason as quality is essential (and comes at a cost) as most of us use medicines in our lives. The move towards producing medicines sustainability is both possible, and is already taking place. Through innovative approaches and collaborative efforts, the industry is poised to reduce its environmental footprint significantly. 

CPI is playing an active and collaborative role. Our efforts to reduce reliance on harmful solvents, embrace digital technologies, and develop innovative solutions aim to not just address environmental concerns but also enhance efficiency and reduce costs- driving the triple bottom line. 

By focusing on both current and future technologies, we’re ensuring that the pharmaceutical sector can meet today’s healthcare needs without costing us the very thing that sustains us: our environment.

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