Science for a sustainable future: What can pharma do?

There will always be opportunities for innovation. Personalized therapies can help cut down on medication waste. In drug formation, greener catalysts can reduce hazardous byproducts. Continuous-flow systems can reduce the need for solvents and cleaners.

CIOL Bureau
New Update

Shikha Singhal, Principal, Data Science, Axtria.

National Science Day is a wonderful opportunity to embrace both the past and present. We celebrate the knowledge gained over the millennia and wait with bated breath for the next advancement that enriches our lives.


This year, there’s a focus on Science for a Sustainable Future. And you’ll probably read many sentences around the Web about how great it is to protect the planet and how important that goal is. Merely talking about it is one thing. At a certain point, you need to put those words into action. So, with that in mind, here are some concrete things the pharma and life sciences industry can do to create a sustainable future and ensure those next advancements actually get here.

Water waste

The pharmaceutical industry relies on water. It’s used for both medicine production and equipment cleaning. The good news is that most pharma companies understand just how critical it is. A recent World Wildlife Foundation survey1, in conjunction with AstraZeneca, found that 85% of respondents acknowledged that high-purity water is critical to their operations. 80% of the top 30 pharmas said water is a main sustainability issue.  But there is room for improvement. 

A report in the journal Water Resources and Industry2 explained how highly polluted water is a byproduct of medicine production. Treatment of, and especially the reuse of water, is highly cost-prohibitive. At sites like hospitals or nursing homes, wastewater may contain run-off pharmaceutical residue. 


Strict regulations apply, and the proper equipment to treat that water is extremely cost-prohibitive. More investment in this area is needed. On the bright side, the report points out that companies are looking to eliminate water waste during a product’s life cycle and use the treated wastewater for purposes other than manufacturing.

Cutting down on pollutants

We already know how telemedicine and virtual visits can help the environment. Patients looking to get the latest update on their clogged arteries won’t have to deal with the clogged roadways. But more can be done to cut down on pollutants in the pharma industry. A move away from single-use plastics can be one way to cut waste.

You may have heard that plant-based plastics are biodegradable. Sadly, they’re not. Yale University3 points out that bioplastics still behave like regular plastic; you can’t just throw it in nature and hope it dissolves. Instead, more focus needs to be put on reuse and recycling. Still, there is value in the effort – it shows that continuous innovation and invention can at least move us towards a solution, if it can’t solve it outright.


Okay, so plants won’t solve the problem. What about fungi?  There are efforts to boost the use of mycelium packaging. Mycelium comes from mushroom roots, and it is lightweight and rigid. And unlike bioplastics, they are biodegradable and can be composted.

Hiring right

Talent acquisition is another sustainability area where the pharmaceutical industry can make direct inroads. It’s important to attract – and retain – the best talent who can continue your sustainability goals and research. Sometimes, the best ideas come from the employees you least expect. As leaders, you have to be open to all sides of conversation and debate and be willing to consider any ideas that pop up.

Research and insights

Here’s another area to look at: your research and development branch. You already know they’re the lifeblood of drug discovery and formulation. But, through data analytics and predictive modeling, you can pinpoint the areas for improvement – not only for your bottom line, but, for sustainability benefits as well. Take the time to find a data partner you can trust, and work with them to craft the analytics and modeling framework that helps you, helps your patients, and helps the environment.


Axtria’s pioneering journey: Fusing science and sustainability

Axtria is one such data partner. We are dedicated to leveraging science and technology for sustainable solutions. Uncovering data-driven insights, optimizing processes, and minimizing waste are what our data scientists do every day. Usually before lunch! (A lunch that comes in a biodegradable bag, of course!) 

Our AI-enabled solutions hone in on improvement areas like a laser – whether it’s predicting patient outcomes or reducing bloat in clinical trials. We work with global health organizations, aligning our efforts with the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). Axtria collaborates with technology giants and research institutions. 

Together, we explore innovative ways to impact patient outcomes. We are not just focused on sustainability; we are actively trying to make the future better. We don’t just want to sustain life – we want it to flourish.


Looking toward the future

There will always be opportunities for innovation. Personalized therapies can help cut down on medication waste. In drug formation, greener catalysts can reduce hazardous byproducts. Continuous-flow systems can reduce the need for solvents and cleaners. 

You may have read about newer innovations like microwave-assisted synthesis or biomimicry. The underlying thread among all these is that the people behind the inventions didn’t stop. They are always looking for ways to improve. 

And, that could be the most important takeaway of this article: always look for ways to improve. Look at everything and find ways to make a difference, even if it starts out small. Never stop looking toward the future.

-- Shikha Singhal, Principal, Data Science, Axtria.

Science Pharma Axtria