Why Europe Needs a Sustainable Pharma Manufacturing System


On 25 November, the European Commission adopted a new strategy meant to, among others, allow Europe to cover its pharmaceutical needs, including in times of crisis, through robust supply chains. The strategy also contains a flagship actions to help curb the rise of antimicrobial resistance. Rex Clements, CEO of Centrient Pharmaceuticals, talks about essential next steps.


A recent McKinsey report looking at how value chains have grown in length and complexity over the past decades put out a startling figure: averaging across industries, companies can now expect supply chain disruptions lasting a month or longer to occur every 3.7 years.

This spring, we lived through the biggest supply chain shock in recent memory. The combination of heightened demand and manufacturing plants locked down or restrictions on both imports and exports at the peak of the COVID-19 crisis significantly reduced accessibility to life-saving medicines, like antibiotics.

At the same time, and paradoxically, shortages in antibiotics have come alongside historic over-use of these medicines that are essential to operations ranging from C-sections to chemotherapy and even tooth extraction. Antimicrobial resistance (AMR) is increasing exponentially and, without radical intervention, threatens to overwhelm healthcare systems and the global economy: an estimated 10m annual deaths and the loss of $100 trillion in output by 2050.

Since this spring, there have been a lot of calls from different leaders for bringing back “home” manufacturing capacity. It looks like globalization has gone into reverse. Doesn’t this spur a false sentiment of security?

We need to look at future-proofing supply chains, in a way that enables them to withstand other looming threats: antimicrobial resistance and the climate emergency.

Europe has the ball in its court, and it can show the way for others. Just this week, the European Commission unveiled its long-awaited Pharmaceutical Strategy. A key element of this is Europe’s overall aim of asserting “strategic autonomy” – in this case, the repatriation of the manufacture of medicines to our continent and its integration within the green transition.

We see no reason why Europe cannot, ultimately, be globally competitive, resilient to potential disruptions – and lead the world in the green transformation.


Robust supply chains

These are a vital issue for Europe but nobody truly believes complete self-sufficiency can be achieved. This is neither feasible nor desirable. Rather, a balanced approach that spreads risk and emphasizes the diversity of supply seems like the best way forward.

This approach is what has allowed my company, Centrient Pharmaceuticals, to keep up with the demand for antibiotics during the pandemic. Thanks to our plants in Europe, Asia and Latin America, we were able to double down on our commitment despite testing circumstances to be a reliable partner for access to essential life-saving antibiotics, and anti-infective and cholesterol-lowering pharmaceutical intermediates, APIs and finished dosage forms.

The EU should look at this model as a best practice, and thereby enhance Europe’s advantages as an attractive place to invest in the face of the continuing consolidation of manufacturing in other regions. This can be done through financial incentives such as grants and green procurement criteria that combine security of supply, sustainable production and AMR resilience. We must break with the mantra that being competitive means being cheap only.


Reforms and incentives

The alarm bells have been raised on the urgent need for market-based reforms if we are to tackle climate change and AMR in a time of pandemic.

Europe can also lead the way towards a “clean and green” future. Centrient has been a trailblazer in this area. In the last 17 years, we have not only minimized our use of fossil fuel-based materials, chemicals and solvents, but reduced our product carbon footprint by up to 65% by switching to green enzymatic technology and other optimization measures. By the end of this decade we expect to have halved our carbon emissions over 2008 levels – on track to be carbon neutral in line with EU objectives.

Similarly, in line with goals set by the AMR Industry Alliance, which we are a part of, Centrient Pharmaceuticals has been cleaning and monitoring antimicrobial presences/activities in wastewater in all our European sites (and beyond). Earlier this year, we met the Alliance’s predicted no-effect concentration (PNEC) discharge targets for our biggest product range: we expect to be entirely so, including our supply chain partners, next year.

We are living in an era of pandemics and the next public health emergency – antimicrobial resistance – is lurking around the corner or even, frankly, hiding in plain sight.

Here is an area where Europe can truly walk the walk, rather than just talk the talk. And deserve that over-worked epithet “world-beating.” It can build resilient supply chains through incentives, adopt procurement criteria with the emphasis on sustainability, support green manufacturing – and help combat AMR.

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