Human health and environmental sustainability are interconnected. Several medicines are inspired by nature or depend on preserving natural resources. Moreover, climate change affects the spread of communicable diseases, like COVID-19, and impacts mental health, nutrition, and respiratory conditions. The pharmaceutical industry is crucial in improving health and solving unmet medical needs. However, making medicines requires high-energy industrial processes and strict requirements for transportation conditions. Drug product packaging and devices used to deliver certain classes of medicines, like diabetes therapies, also produce a significant amount of non-recyclable waste.

As a result, the biotech and pharma sector emits two gigatons of carbon dioxide. This represents 4.4% of total global emissions. Out of this, 71% of emissions come from the supply chain. To meet Paris Agreement objectives, pharmaceutical companies must move toward a more sustainable way of making medicines. A study published in the International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health reports that 19 companies committed to reducing their greenhouse gases (GHGs), 10 to carbon neutrality, and 8 set net-zero targets for 2050. Big players like AstraZeneca, GSK, and Novo Nordisk are some of the most committed companies to decarbonizing their business.

Inpart is a trusted partner in this industry, and we feel it is part of our responsibility to continue reducing our impact and find new ways to help our customers in this journey. We have supported collaborations in the pharmaceutical sector for 20 years, positioning us well to analyze the current ways of partnering to make pharma a low-carbon sector.

Partnerships to reduce emissions: examples from top pharmaceutical firms

To discover and develop new pharmaceutical assets, collaborations are the norm. However, it’s still relatively rare to observe collaborations targeting emission reduction, improved circularity, or other sustainability topics. Nevertheless, The Boston Consulting Group reported that the number of deals concerning “green” activities doubled in the last 20 years.

Before diving into some partnerships in this area, it is worth it to remember how emissions are categorized. We refer to Scope 1 and Scope 2 when emissions are under the company's direct control. Conversely, Scope 3 emissions are not produced by the company itself but result from upstream and downstream activities. Examples of scope 3 emissions are business travel, purchased goods and services, or IT providers. As reported in all ESG reports (Environmental Society and Governance), Scope 3 represents over 90% of all GHGs a pharmaceutical company releases. The role of suppliers is key to decarbonizing the healthcare sector, and pharmaceutical companies are increasingly partnering with them to reduce their footprint.

A large pharma company has around 60,000 suppliers that allow the business to operate. From R&D services to energy suppliers to software providers, each has a part to play in creating more sustainable drug manufacturing processes. Partnerships can be established between 1) two companies, 2) among various industry peers, or 3) with academics through open innovation grants or initiatives.

In the first kind of partnership, a pharmaceutical company seeks a partner with a different industrial expertise. As an example, Novo Nordisk established long-term partnerships with SkyNRG Maersk (3 years) to reduce emissions from transportation and preservation of its medicines. As reported on the company website, iv this type of partnership does not come without challenges. Novo Nordisk underlines the importance of communicating well about ESG initiatives to show the company's commitment and to build up its reputation. A pharmaceutical company needs to win the trust of a potential partner and to do that, important to display a genuine commitment to environmental action. 

The second kind of collaboration involves multiple big players such as AstraZeneca, GSK, and Novartis, among others. Two often mentioned are the Energize program and the PSCI program (Pharmaceutical Supply Chain Initiative).These are industry-wide partnerships where multiple pharmaceutical companies collaborate either to have access to renewable energy sources (Energize) or to help suppliers meet industry expectations (PSCI). In the PSCI initiative, partnering is one of the six pillars of success. Partnerships are regional and initially focus on regions such as India and China, which are both strategic territories for drug supply.

The third way for pharma to access expertise in sustainability is to support external research from academics (or startups).AstraZeneca is one of the pioneers in the field. In 2022, the company launched the “Co-Solve sustainability” initiative; early winners include Aston University’s technology to replace acetonitrile in chromatography. To understand the impact of such an innovation, we must keep in mind that the pharmaceutical industry uses 70% of the world's supply of acetonitrile. As this v is a by-product of the oil industry, becoming independent from this is a major advancement and guarantees resilience to operate in a decarbonized world.

The most prominent companies are leading. What about biotech companies?

If the companies with the highest revenues are embracing “net-zero” targets, small biotech companies do not often communicate their environmental ambitions. MyGreenLab reports that only 9% of the 75 companies in its database have set goals aligned with the 1.5°C scenario. The rest are aligned with 2°C to 5°C warming, which is not sustainable. Luckily, some companies are taking steps to improve this situation.

One of them is Genoway, a local company in the Lyon area and a leader in in vivo and in vitro modeling. Its ambitious plan could show the way for other SMEs that want to follow this example. Genoway committed to reducing its emissions by 6% year on year they’re needed.

Ginkgo Bioworks (a company specializing in biological engineering) is another biotech that is acting to become more sustainable. In 2022, the company released its first ESG report and committed to the “Science Based Target Initiative.” Ginkgo Bioworks also designs and reserves its technology to help its customers reduce their emissions. As an example, customers can use microbes for chemical production, halving emissions compared with classical processes.

On the same angle, BIO (Biotechnology International Organization) published a white paper that highlights how biotech innovations can play an important role in finding solutions to climate challenges. This is not only an opportunity for all of us to meet our climate goals but also for the biotech industry to provide expertise and technologies for the decades to come.

Inpart’s commitment and contribution

After assessing the current state of partnerships for a more sustainable pharmaceutical sector, we want to provide a glimpse of what our contribution can be in this landscape.

First, since 2018,we have consistently reported our carbon emissions yearly. Thanks to our employees' commitment we can estimate that our company’s emissions are 86% less than other companies in the same sector.

Besides keeping our emissions low, there are other ways we can support our partners to build a low-carbon business. Our Connect platform, which is free to join for industry R&D professionals, can be used to identify innovative technologies to improve sustainability. The platform allows the user to select relevant keywords and get matched by in-house STEM experts to technologies from academic institutes and out-licensing startups worldwide.

Examples of assets on the platform that could advance sustainability efforts in biopharma companies include: more sustainable formulations for drug delivery, the production of more sustainable polymers for packaging, or the production of biofuels for reducing emissions associated with drug distribution. 

Interested in finding new partnering opportunities 365-days a year?

If we want to build a healthier world, we all must commit to the responsible use of natural resources and their preservation. While reducing our impact is crucial, providing help to find new technologies and networks to source innovations could dramatically accelerate the transition toward a more sustainable world. Operating responsibly and improving access to innovation are both part of our DNA, and we will continue to support our customers to achieve these goals.

Written by Samuele Lisi, Marketing Manager at Inpart, 2022-2023

Image credits: Header - © [anshu18] / Unsplash.