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Driving Sustainability in Drug Discovery

A Community Approach

The pharma and biotech industry is growing. While this brings the promise of new therapeutics for currently untreatable diseases, the increasing environmental impact of the industry cannot be ignored. As a significant contributor to the global climate change crisis, biotech and pharma must also be part of the solution, if the net zero by 2050 Paris Agreement is to be realised. But sustainability can only be achieved if the drug discovery community works together.

To support the sustainability efforts of the industry, ELRIG, Europe’s largest community of life science professionals, launched a new event, Sustainability Practices in Drug Discovery Research in April 2023 at St Hilda’s College, Oxford. At this forum, ELRIG brought together leaders who are driving sustainable practices in biotech and pharma with colleagues from across the industry to share ideas and learning. From the problematic accumulation of plastic waste to the vast volumes of water used, all aspects of sustainability were discussed. By coming together, and learning from each other, the pharma and biotech industry can unlock the sustainability opportunity, and benefit the wider, global community.

Ahead of the event, we spoke to three leading organisations as they explore why improving sustainability in drug discovery is critical to the health of the planet, the core areas they see as being important, and what the future of sustainable practices looks like. Each interviewee brings a unique perspective to the challenges that need to be overcome and demonstrates how a multi-angled approach to sustainability is required.

In this article, we hear directly from James Connelly, CEO, of My Green Lab, a non-profit formed to unify scientists, vendors, designers and energy providers in a mission to build a global culture of sustainability in science. Joining James is Annie Lu, Co-Founder and CEO of H20k Innovations, an IoT-enabled analytics platform that provides data-driven optimisation of industrial liquid systems for pharmaceutical development and manufacturing. And Carey Ann Comeau, Senior Director of Wet Lab Operations, Greentown Labs, a climatetch incubator that provides community, resources and laboratory space for startups and unites them with corporates, investors, politicians and many others to shape a sustainable future.

Why is Driving Sustainability in the Drug Discovery Industry So Important?

The total carbon impact of the pharma and biotech industry is significant. My Green Lab was one of the first organisations to quantity this, and we found that public companies in the biotech and pharma industry produce nearly 230 million metric tonnes of carbon equivalent annually, which is equivalent to 578 natural gas power plants. When you realise that biotech and pharma produce more carbon emissions than forestry and paper, it really puts the scale of the challenge into perspective. And the industry is growing, so, if we’re going to solve the global climate change crisis, this is one of the industries we need to address. Ultimately, we have to be part of the solution.