The climate crisis: Is pharma ready?

April 7, 2020
The industry needs to prepare for the effects of climate change on global health

The pharma industry is experiencing numerous stress factors which are growing year-on-year. These include increasing global demand from emerging economies, counterfeit medicines, antimicrobial resistance, new product types like gene therapies, and aging populations. There is also a very real threat facing global populations from the coronavirus pandemic, placing extreme pressure on pharma supply chains and health care systems.

In addition to these challenges, the climate crisis continues to be the most complex to face pharma today due to its longevity. Yet, according to a Lancet report, less than four percent of spending on climate change adaption is currently being dedicated to human health.

All in all, scientists agree that most climate change impacts will be adverse on global health, with some declaring a public health emergency.

Pharma is part of the problem — and solution

Pharma, as one of the largest global industries, has a big part to play when it comes to minimizing the adverse effects of climate change.
A first-of-its-kind study by environmental engineers found the pharma industry is significantly more emission-intensive (13 percent more) than the automotive industry despite the sector being 28 percent smaller. However, there are ways pharma can help reduce its carbon footprint and work towards an end goal of carbon neutrality.

New pharma plants should incorporate green spaces and energy-saving technologies into site plans — from the installation of rainwater harvesting systems, solar panels, inverter driven machinery and reactive lighting to robotics that increase production yields and accuracy with reduced input.

Pharma waste continues to be a huge problem. To eliminate non-biodegradable and single-use plastics from the supply chain, more research is taking place around bio-based PET. The material is made from ethylene derived from sugarcane which has a negative carbon footprint, using CO2 and releasing oxygen when cultivated. Researchers are testing pioneering technology which converts PET waste back into virgin grade material to be used again. Cutting-edge manufacturing methods like 3D visualization and printing are also helping reduce waste by eliminating the need for multiple prototype designs.

A world in flux

Whether it’s a fast-developing public health emergency caused by an extreme weather event, or a steady increase in respiratory diseases from worsening air pollution levels, the pharma industry needs to have the agility to respond quickly and support the effective functioning of health care systems.

Investment in sites’ resilience such as flood barricades, emergency power generators, and keeping critical digital infrastructure on higher floors, is key to preparing for extreme weather in advance. Keeping global supply chains moving in the aftermath of a climate event is also vital. Teams on the ground need to be capable of creating any solution, to any problem, anytime, and anywhere.

Consolidating the supply chain under one roof brings a large range of benefits including, but not limited to, reduced risks and overheads, greater innovation, assurance of supply and compliance, tighter quality control, and local availability via regional distribution sites on a global scale.
Governments and regulators may soon enact policies to force pharma companies to geographically diversify the locations of their production facilities, particularly for products that are life-saving and have no substitutes, as well as carry heavy inventory to protect against supply chain disruption.

Pharma is also exploring the promise of AI in creating “smart” supply chains to respond to climate uncertainty. Programs can now independently monitor market signals and accurately predict risks related to medicine shortages. They can pick up that a population is complaining of symptoms from viral or bacterial infections on social media and use this analysis to predict an imminent large-scale outbreak, giving local authorities and health care systems more time to react.

AI is also making it possible to predict and manage transportation capacity at a highly granular level, while virtually eliminating intensive manual work and best-guess decisions, helping to keep the supply chain running.

Ultimately, new technologies and a more agile supply chain will be key in pharma’s efforts to minimize the adverse effects of climate change.

About the Author

Rich Quelch Global Head of Marketing | Origin