Swedish Pharma Sustainability Manifesto

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Anders Blanck, CEO of LIF, the industry organisation for the research-based pharmaceutical industry in Sweden, describes the Sustainability Strategy that the pharma industry in Sweden is now launching. Central to the Strategy is a Manifesto with nine commitments that covers the entire value chain of medicines – from research and development through manufacturing, to marketing and use – and has both the individual patient and society as a whole in focus.

Sustainable development is a concept that usually is defined as a development that meets the needs of today without jeopardizing the ability of future generations to meet their needs. This is something that is quite easy for most of us to affirm. We all want to leave behind a better world for future generations. But it is also easy to feel powerless in the face of the challenges that our generation must address. We have now entered into the decade that the United Nations (UN) call “The Decade of Action” and no one can claim that we are even close to overcoming global challenges such as poverty, inequality, climate change, environmental degradation, loss of biodiversity or threats to peace and justice. Powerlessness is closely related to passivity. Anyone who is faced with an overwhelming threat tends to resign. Therefore, the UN’s Agenda 2030 with the 17 global goals for sustainable development (SDGs) is a necessary guide for how countries, sectors and individual industries can work with the change that must take place.

The pharmaceutical industry contributes to the highest degree to one of the most important global goals – good health and well-being. Good access to safe and effective medicines and vaccines, as well as a well-functioning healthcare system, saves millions of lives around the world every year and creates conditions for good health and well-being throughout life. As an industry, we should be proud of this direct contribution to sustainable health and global development. But of course, this is not enough. The Life Science sector as a whole and individual pharmaceutical companies must relate to and work to fully integrate other global goals. Sustainable development is complex, and many different aspects influence each other. The global challenges must therefore be highlighted from a system perspective in order for the sometimes conflicting goals to be handled. The need for a system perspective is important as a specific measure to deal with one challenge may risk having a negative impact on another. Social, economic and environmental challenges are all truly integrated.

I am convinced that a transformation of today’s societies is feasible, even if the challenges we must face are substantial and numerous. Major investments and structural changes will be required of our societies and for how entrepreneurship is conducted. But there is no alternative – a transition to a sustainable future must take place.

In the area of pharmaceuticals, there is a conflict of goals in the work with sustainable development, especially within the area of environmental sustainability. An obvious conflict of goals exists when a pharmaceutical that is effective in treating patients with a serious illness at the same time can have a negative impact on the surrounding environment via wastewater. The challenges from a sustainability perspective can also look completely different for different pharmaceutical companies. A company with a large number of generic medicines without patent protection must keep production costs low in order for the products to be attractive for healthcare to purchase. The possibility of investments in new and “greener” manufacturing technologies may be challenging for such a company due to the small margins on the products. For another company with a limited number of products in their portfolio – all of them under patent protection – it may be easier to achieve carbon neutrality in manufacturing. However, for medical treatment reasons, the substance may have a toxicological profile that makes the product potentially ecotoxic, which means that the sustainability challenge for that company will be to reduce the products’ possible negative effects in water.

So, in our work to develop the Swedish Pharma Sustainability Strategy we have used a central concept to guide us: Sustainable Health. This means that we must have both the individual patient and society as a whole in focus during the work along the entire value chain of medicines – from research and development via manufacturing, to marketing and use. Central in our Sustainability Strategy is a Manifesto with nine commitments, divided into three pillars: ethics and transparency, good health and access to medicines, and decreased environmental impact. Each pillar states three commitments. We are convinced that company initiatives taken to implement and comply to these commitments will contribute to making the Life Science-sector a valuable actor in society’s transformation to long-term sustainability and adherence to the UN’s SDGs. Lif member companies’ own sustainability plans must reflect the Manifesto and the companies sign up to collaborate within industry to continuously develop and follow-up on the Strategy. The nine commitments are:

Ethics and transparency:

  • We work for as much cooperation, transparency and openness as possible throughout the entire pharmaceutical value chain.
  • We act trust-building, and with respect in all collaboration, and maintain and further develop the pharmaceutical industry’s ethical rules and recommendations.
  • Our member companies are good employers.

Good health and access to medicines:

  • We work for good accessibility and access to medicines and push for patients’ opportunity for optimal treatment and everyone’s equal right to medical treatments and care.
  • We fight the threat of antibiotic resistance.
  • We are a reliable partner in building increased resilience, in normal situations as well as in crises, pandemics, and disasters.

Decreased environmental impact:

  • We are part of the transition to a circular economy.
  • We work for a fossil-free pharmaceutical industry.
  • We work for reduced discharges of pharmaceutical residues into water.

Sweden has worked actively for a long time with sustainability challenges both nationally and internationally. Social reforms, freedom of expression and strong environmental legislation are examples of areas where Sweden as a country has been a pioneer. Working for sustainable development has long been high on the Swedish agenda. And even though Sweden is a very small market for the pharmaceutical industry, it is often given high priority by companies. Sweden has a developed healthcare system, reputable government agencies in the sector, strong academic institutions, and a well-functioning collaboration between different stakeholders.

Our member companies, which usually are the Swedish subsidiaries of multinational companies, have a relatively strong position within their respective global corporations, which means that initiatives taken here in Sweden can also be spread internationally. In a previous op-ed in Pharma Boardroom, I described the many years of successful work by industry and other actors in Sweden to reduce the threat from antimicrobial resistance, AMR. I then pleaded for Sweden as an excellent test market for various incentive models that, scaled up to European and global levels, can have very positive effects, both in terms of reducing resistance and developing new effective antibiotics. In the same way, I hope that the Lif Sweden Sustainability Strategy that we are now launching can also inspire the industry in other major markets.


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