Towards a Net Zero future in pharma - the role of continuous manufacturing

17 February 2021

by Emma Cox Head of Purpose and UK Leader Sustainability & Climate Change, PwC United Kingdom

Email +44 (0)7973 317011

by Johnathon Marshall Partner, Health Industries, Procurement and Supply Chain Management, PwC United Kingdom

Email +44 (0)7736 350447

As the US rejoins the Paris Climate Agreement under President Biden, there is a renewed focus on companies to operate in a cleaner, greener way. With nearly one third of global energy demand and CO2 emissions coming from manufacturing, the pharma industry is a clear starting area of focus.

We believe that continuous manufacturing technology is an important weapon in the armoury towards sustainability. It significantly improves efficiency - reducing the carbon footprint and environmental impact - and offers many advantages when it comes to sustainable medicine production. CMAC, based out of the University of Strathclyde, have been working to further the uptake of this novel technology across the industry. In partnership with PwC, they have recently published a white paper on the holistic benefits of using continuous manufacturing.

Below we have highlighted some of the key ways continuous manufacturing can positively impact sustainability in pharmaceutical production:

Carbon footprint

Continuous manufacturing reduces the manufacturing carbon footprint by up to 80%. This, combined with the supply chain ramifications of localised manufacturing, has revolutionary consequences for the pharmaceutical footprint and Net Zero ambitions.

In 2014, Amgen opened a $200 million USD next-generation biomanufacturing facility incorporating innovative to-date techniques and a continuous purification system. Its modular design means the plant’s footprint is 75% smaller, with energy consumption down 69% and water consumption reduced by 45%.

Consistency of production

15 years ago, it was estimated $50bn USD was lost as waste each year in the US alone due to inefficiencies of batch production. Since then very little has changed. Continuous manufacturing allows for Active Pharmaceutical Ingredient (API) production to a much more tightly controlled specification: flow chemistry creates far more consistent material, leading to more consistent product downstream. The increase in API purity can be as much as 40%.

In an industry where quality is closely regulated, this consistency can hugely impact how much product can actually be used. Higher quality API and continuous processing can reduce downstream waste by up to 60%. Improved control of these processes also limits the need for rework by getting the right results the first time. On top of this, with no batching of products and production, there is never a situation where a whole batch must be discarded.

Secondary manufacture

A medicinal product is typically composed of an API and ‘excipient’ – the bulking-out materials that stabilise and protect the API, or enable its absorption by a patient. Combining and then processing these, turning them into tablets, is a key target area for efficiency. Continuous manufacturing uses new technologies that have been shown to increase energy efficiency up to 50%. Waste across this process can be reduced by 33% by using continuous manufacturing methods through improved process consistency and time-based batch control.

Embracing continuous manufacturing will send a signal to the general population that pharma companies are using the best of new technologies, not only to improve efficiency, but to ensure they are on track to play their part in meeting carbon reduction targets. The flexibility of continuous manufacturing production futureproofs facilities, equipping them to produce multiple current medicines as well as upcoming innovative therapies, reducing the risk exposure to investments.

The fact that these green measures go hand in hand with cost reduction and efficiency improvement mean that companies can commit to, and invest in, a more sustainable future bringing benefits across the board.

To find out more about continuous manufacturing, read the paper published by CMAC and PwC here. See also our previous blogs on continuous manufacturing here.

by Emma Cox Head of Purpose and UK Leader Sustainability & Climate Change, PwC United Kingdom

Email +44 (0)7973 317011

by Johnathon Marshall Partner, Health Industries, Procurement and Supply Chain Management, PwC United Kingdom

Email +44 (0)7736 350447