Sustainable product design for global pharma. There’s plenty of talk on the subject, but to me there’s not enough action. I firmly believe we have a tangible opportunity to instigate real and lasting progress for the good of both the industry and society. The pivot point will be a fundamental change of mindset that puts a sustainability vision at the earliest stage of the product development process. It can’t come soon enough.

In this article I want to put my case in the context of drug delivery devices. Currently, the approach to product design is dominated at the outset by patient-centricity. This focus means that wider, more long-term implications simply aren’t considered early enough. Important things like how the durability, size and general functionality of the device might affect its lifespan and ability to be reused or recycled. By the time these crucial environmentally related elements are considered it’s too late – sustainable solutions can’t be taken off a shelf and bolted on.

The need to fast-track sustainability to the opening page of development is highlighted in recent findings from the Capgemini Research Institute: Rethink: Why sustainable product design is the need of the hour. The report estimates that 80% of the environmental impact of a product is linked to decisions made at the design stage. It’s for this reason that organisations – including pharma companies investing in drug delivery – should make sustainability a core strategic priority for product design.

So, I plan to unpack some of the practical ways we can advance the cause of sustainability in drug delivery. First up we need to unify a range of capabilities and encourage collaboration vertically and horizontally across the product development process. And secondly, we need to harness the exciting potential of two emerging areas of technology innovation: synthetic biology and intelligent connected health. What’s really exciting about the emergence of technologies, allied to new ways of working, is that it promises a world where we can balance patient-centricity, including excellent usability, with more sustainable practices.

Tackling the toughest, most urgent challenges

The possibilities were brought home to me at a recent gathering of InventX, the learning and development event for colleagues within the Capgemini Invent family. We come together to reimagine ways of tackling some of the toughest and most urgent challenges that society is facing. As you’ll know if you read my article on a successful connected future for global pharma, the need for wider industry collaboration is a pet subject of mine. At InventX, the importance of collaboration was highlighted – especially when looking to address biological challenges that might span disease states or indications with engineering, hardware, software, intelligent technologies and so on.

It was heartening to hear agreement from our colleagues at frog, part of Capgemini Invent, about the importance of embedding sustainability considerations into the design stage of the product. They made the point that this becomes increasingly easier when the correct infrastructure is put in place. And then how do you start to think about how to engineer something meeting these considerations? Collaboration across all relevant disciplines.

This requires individuals from the product development chain to come together horizontally and vertically foster an environment that actively considers the future impact of the drug delivery device. Straightaway this will enable us to better design for durability, re-usability, reparability, modularity, recyclability and recoverability. Basically, it will mean we can make mechanical technology products just as effective, but also ensure we are more considerate about what happens when they come to the end of their lifespan.

Further collaboration is also necessary with teams that bring expertise in digital services innovation, in AI and machine learning, in synthetic biology and in digital twins. If the pharma industry incorporates these innovative areas successfully, it will hasten the move towards more considerate drug delivery solutions. These skills can be factored in by using better materials; modelling for development and end of life; and improved material traceability.

Synthetic biology in product design

At CC, we are actively exploring ways that synthetic biology can positively impact product design. What are the good, biologically sourced alternatives to materials that are made by humans? Initial answers are leading us to the next steps of discovering discover how such materials work in drug delivery device design and examining how they can reduce the carbon intensity of manufacturing processes.

I also want to highlight the vast potential that digital therapeutics offers when it comes to shaping a world of smartly connected and considerate healthcare. They might not, of course, act as a direct replacement for injectables, but they definitely represent a powerful component to improve efficacy and reduce our reliance on materials. Let’s take a smart, connected autoinjector as an example. Ultimately, the more holistic, efficient and patient-compliant treatment it delivers will also equate to more sustainable treatment. I certainly envisage a near future where digital therapeutics are designed to reflect the most energy efficient practices.

There are plenty more initiatives we can take with my example autoinjector. Can we push towards dematerialisation by literally cutting down on the number of materials we use? We can most definitely drive towards modular construction to make devices easier to disassemble so that components can be reused or recycled. We can also put design considerations in place to plan for when its useful life has ended, as well as incorporating smart packaging features to assist with traceability.

These suggestions are not pipedreams but tangible, practical ways to instigate change sooner rather than later. Emerging technologies are putting a more sustainable future for global pharma well within our grasp. With a fresh, collaborative mindset we can work together to transform our approach and make sure a sustainable vision is at the heart of drug delivery device design. Please do reach out to me on email of you’d like to discuss any aspects of the topic in more depth. It’ll be great to hear from you.

Elizabeth Thomas
Author
Elizabeth Thomas
BioPharma, Business Developer

Lizzie is part of our global medical technology division based out of the UK, specialising in Medical Technology for Pharmaceutical & Biotechs. She has experience working in partnership with both Global Pharma and startup communities to develop and launch innovative, technical products & processes combining Biology, Software & Engineering. She has a background in Biomedical Sciences from Durham University, with experience in Neurodevelopmental and Neurodegenerative Disorders.

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