Pharmaceutical Plant

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Sustainability continues to be a hot topic, and the pharmaceutical industry faces pressure to reduce its carbon footprint. As a result, a growing number of pharma companies are stepping up sustainability efforts.

In a growing number of locations, pharma companies are seeing drivers in the regulatory environment to force them to prioritize sustainability. “We’re seeing [pressure] from both regulatory authorities having jurisdiction at the federal, state and local level of different jurisdictions,” said Jeff Wegner, a mechanical engineer at CRB.

A growing number of jurisdictions on the East Coast and West Coast are restricting or banning the use of, for instance, natural gas.

While such restrictions are not yet pervasive, the trend is building, said Wegner, who was among the authors of the Horizons: Life Sciences Report.

Another dimension to sustainability is the fact that the pharmaceutical industry has been a big consumer of raw materials and energy. “It’s easy to kind of pick on pharma,” Wegner said. The industry is “responding positively, saying, ‘We can do better.’”

California is among the states moving quickest toward renewable energy; many other states have a long-term clean electricity goal or mandate.

A related trend is the pharma industry’s own quest to improve efficiency with strategies such as Pharma 4.0 while exploring emerging therapies such as advanced therapy medicinal products (ATMPs), which pose their own regulatory and logistics hurdles.

Big Pharma companies tend to be a bit more conservative in terms of digitalization, said Yvonne Duckworth, lead automation engineer and Pharma 4.0 subject matter expert at CRB.

“ATMPs tend to be a little bit more manual,” Duckworth said. “There’s a little less opportunity for automation.” Duckworth is a co-author of the report above.

But equipment vendors serving pharma and biotech are ensuring new equipment has connectivity, which can potentially help boost operational efficiency.

“Big Pharma tends to have more funding available for some of these additional digitalization projects as opposed to the less automated manufacturing of ATMPs,” Duckworth said.

In terms of Pharma 4.0 adoption overall, Duckworth acknowledges that the pharma industry has been more reserved in adopting such smart technologies than other industrial sectors such as the oil and gas industry.

But the tide may be turning given renewed support from regulatory authorities. The FDA, for instance, has implemented a new program called the Emerging Technology Program. “I think FDA realizes they have to change a little bit and help us to adopt this technology,” Duckworth said.