Medicines Manufacturing Challenge Community: KTN and Innovate UK Comment on Net Zero Manufacturing for Pharmaceuticals

Posted on: 19/11/2021
medicine production line, vials of blue liquid

KTN and Innovate UK take a look at what Net Zero means for the medicines manufacturing community.

Environmental sustainability is becoming increasingly important for manufacturers in the pharmaceuticals sector, with most major medicines manufacturers, and some smaller organisations embracing sustainability as a core value. AstraZeneca for example, aims to be carbon negative across the value chain by 2030, and they’re not alone: GSK has been a principal partner of COP26 and the Association of the British Pharmaceutical Industry (ABPI) issued a joint statement for COP26, in support of taking action to tackle climate change.

Several UK companies, including AstraZeneca have signed up to the UN Race to Zero” campaign, which is a pledge that companies can make to support COP26 and show governments that businesses are taking climate change seriously.  “Race to Zero” is a coalition of nations, regions, cities, businesses, universities and investors who are committed to achieving net zero carbon emissions across their activities. These emissions comprise of:

  • Scope 1 emissions – direct emissions from an organisation in pursuit of its activities (e.g. emissions from industrial boilers, vehicle fleets, etc)
  • Scope 2 emissions – indirect emissions from an organisation in pursuit of its activities (e.g. from the production of thermal or electrical energy purchased from suppliers)
  • Scope 3 emissions – those emissions resulting from purchased goods and services along the value chain, and from use of an organisations’ manufactured products in society.

So why the big push towards environmental sustainability? Up to now, the emphasis of medicines manufacturing innovation has tended to be on quality, security of supply, and cost, but there’s a net zero opportunity as well. Novel and advanced therapies present new challenges in production, but also offer the chance to build in environmental mitigations whilst the technologies are still young.

Building on the success of the Industrial Strategy Challenge Fund Medicines Manufacturing challenge outlined in the recently-published challenge impact report, Innovate UK’s Medicines Manufacturing Challenge Team believes that continued investment in innovative manufacturing technology could make a significant contribution to reducing the sector’s carbon footprint. For example, this could include the use of productivity improvements derived from digital design and digital twins to reduce waste generated during process development and scale-up, alongside continuous process technologies, improved sensors and process analytics to run more efficient production with reduced manufacturing waste, such as Arcinova (since acquired by Quotient Sciences) are developing through their Flowinova project. Also, the application of digital systems and innovative technology to medicines supply, logistics, inventory and end of use is expected to result in a more fit-for-purpose medicines supply chain with reduced environmental impact, in a similar manner to the achievements of SageTech’s technology for capturing, purifying and recycling inhalational anaesthetic agents.

External drivers are also playing a part. The effort towards slowing down global warming has been gaining momentum for some years with the 2015 Paris Agreement, and then in 2019, the UK passed Net Zero emissions targets into law – aiming to bring greenhouse gas emissions to Net Zero by 2050. COP26 continues to expand these targets.

The Government wants to make the UK a more attractive, resilient place to manufacture, through investment in innovative, environmentally sustainable technologies – if through innovation we can decarbonise industry, the resulting opportunities will boost the UK economy.

Domestically, pressure is also mounting from the NHS, which has launched the campaign for a Greener NHS and wants to be the first carbon zero national health system. Work is under way to develop  a Sustainable Procurement Programme, and whilst precise requirements and targets are to be determined the aim is for NHS supplier scope 1&2 emissions targets to be set by 2022 and scope 3 by 2024, with suppliers to share carbon input of their products by 2030. NHS is keen to engage with suppliers on this as one of the main challenges is to understand the carbon impact of the products they procure, so it’s going to be imperative that suppliers and procurement work together to understand this and create/adopt standards.

What does sustainability actually mean for the medicines sector?

The pharmaceutical industry is a significant contributor to climate change, with greenhouse gas emissions having increased over recent years, due to growing demand for, and production of medicines worldwide. Manufacture of medicines is traditionally driven by quality and safety factors, ensuring products reach patients in an uncontaminated condition. Use of disposable technologies has created a reliance on single use plastics in manufacturing process, and in product packaging.

Another major hurdle is a lack of cohesion and standards on reporting requirements, collection of data and verification of claims, which is why KTN’s Medicines Manufacturing Challenge Community,  in collaboration with the Medicines Manufacturing Industry Partnership (MMIP) ran a webinar on 22nd October on ‘Measuring and Reporting Carbon Footprint’ for companies involved in medicines and medical device manufacturing and the wider supply chain. In addition to NHS introducing their Sustainable Procurement Programme, the webinar featured presentations from GSK, AstraZeneca, Pfizer and Chiesi on their approaches to decarbonisation, with practical advice on how to report Scope 1 & 2 carbon output. Experiences were also shared on how to calculate Scope 3 emissions in both upstream and downstream value chains.  You can watch the webinar and access the presentation slides here.

In common with other sectors, achieving a net zero medicines supply chain will require commitment at all organisational  levels alongside continued investment in manufacturing innovation. The webinar demonstrated how real the level of interest in achieving this objective is right across the medicines value chain. In the recent spending review the UK Government proposed significant investment in life sciences manufacturing in support of its objectives towards Global Britain, levelling up and net zero. With the continued support of the Medicines Manufacturing Challenge Community there is an opportunity to act to make a real difference to the carbon footprint of our medicines. Innovate UK, KTN and MMIP are up for the challenge. Be part of it by getting in touch.

Karen Wilkinson leads on Medicines Manufacturing at KTN and works with MMIP’s Sustainability Workstream, which is responsible for developing the MMIP Sustainability Strategy, and creating policy asks for MMIP to influence future funding & investment, and supporting the sector by being a source and a conduit for information. Send a message to Karen here.

Mark Talford is Deputy Challenge Director for the Innovate UK Medicines Manufacturing Challenge, and has led the identification of key innovation needs in support of a net zero pharmaceutical manufacturing sector that feature in the Transforming Medicines Manufacturing proposal submitted to Spending Review with the support of MMIP. Contact him on

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