Redefining sustainability for the pharmaceutical business

Sustainability seems to be a precedence for many firms at present, with groups of workers at main firms devoted to it and to offering sturdy messaging on its significance. However by way of the true, sensible implications for shoppers, these efforts incessantly fall quick. Within the pharmaceutical business, sustainability is commonly a poorly outlined buzzword, and the aim appears to be sustaining profit-making over the quick time period fairly than sustaining well being for populations in the long run.

Though buyers now choose increasingly more companies on their environmental, social and governance (ESG) efficiency, a 2021 evaluation confirmed that solely 0.2% of companies around the globe had been strongly aligned with the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals.

It is a worrying disconnect, particularly within the well being sector, provided that health itself is a sustaining and sustainable investment.


Entry to pharmaceutical merchandise and well being care providers must be sustainable for everybody, no matter the place they dwell, and sustainability efforts ought to concentrate on long-term funding in creating well being fairness.

Whereas pharmaceutical firms at the moment discuss quite a bit about their dedication to a “patient-centric method,” and whereas huge positive aspects have been made previously decade in understanding the advantages of infusing affected person centricity into R&D, the method of pharmaceutical firms to affected person centricity isn’t seen in how they view sustainability in well being care.


To present only one instance of the challenges individuals in low-income international locations can face in accessing drug remedy within the longer-term, have a look at the expertise of Jimmy (we’re not utilizing his actual identify to guard his privateness), a 60-year-old father, husband, and electrician in Kenya. He acquired life-saving and life-changing remedy for his continual myeloid leukemia by way of the Max Access Solutions program, which one among us (P.G-G.) leads. It supplies entry to medication donated by pharmaceutical firms. But, as he recalled to the Max Basis, “One time I didn’t have transport funds to attend the clinic. I hitchhiked a carry from a long-distance trailer, nevertheless it acquired mechanical issues mid-way to Nairobi. I bought my cellphone and jacket to finish the journey.”

In a world through which a person would possibly must promote their possessions to even get to the hospital and entry their remedy, attaining “sustainability” would require efforts from a number of angles.

We see three sensible steps pharmaceutical firms can take to turn into really sustainable:

First, they want to consider sustainability not as short-term profitability however fairly as an funding that may ultimately rework low-resource international locations into functioning markets. A recent Brookings Institution study discovered that each $1 invested in well being in low-income international locations yielded an financial return of between $2 and $4. Such investments can result in an acceleration in financial improvement, maximizing entry to take care of all and attaining the Sustainable Improvement Objectives.

Second, they should ring-fence a constant annual price range for funding in advancing entry to medicines in the identical manner as they do with R&D budgets. Constant, long-term funding is critical to realize sustainability.

Third, they need to proactively embrace sufferers when creating entry methods, and may measure success via affected person outcomes. When designing entry applications, firms must ask if their therapies are reasonably priced and sustainable for individuals over the long run.

Whereas the 2022 index compiled by Access to Medicine, a company led by one among us (J.Ok.I.), registered progress by a number of the world’s largest pharmaceutical firms in increasing entry to extra of their merchandise, most of those efforts nonetheless depart individuals within the poorest international locations behind. People dwelling in low-income nations typically don’t get entry to the therapies they want, together with medicines and different well being care merchandise. The issue is very acute for girls and ladies. The most recent index discovered main R&D gaps in merchandise to diagnose and deal with maternal hemorrhage — the main reason behind maternal dying worldwide — and maternal sepsis, one other life-threatening situation.

Firms must develop new therapies, however should additionally be sure that each fundamental important merchandise and cutting-edge therapies are persistently accessible to extra individuals in additional international locations.

Company duty doesn’t cease there. Pharmaceutical firms even have a job to play in making certain that well being care programs are supported horizontally, fairly than in only a restricted set of illness areas, so sufferers’ wants are met throughout the continuum of care. Along with entry to progressive medicines, individuals around the globe additionally require well timed entry to high quality important medicines, diagnostics, preventive vaccines, and different important merchandise like medical oxygen.

One fundamental requirement for rising entry is making certain safe provide chains, an space the place the pharmaceutical business performs a central function. It could cut back the danger of shortages and stockouts via diversification of suppliers, capability constructing, and know-how transfers to assist native manufacturing in resource-poor settings. With true dedication to affected person centricity, the non-public and public sectors can work collectively to construct a extra resilient and steady well being care system for the poorest and most weak in society.

In the end, that is all about pharmaceutical firms staying the course and making long-term commitments on entry and assist for well being programs, fairly than specializing in delivering chosen consumable medical interventions from their product portfolios.

Lots of the almost 650 million people in the world living below the poverty line depend on overseas assist and donated merchandise for his or her fundamental medical care. Whereas new financial fashions are wanted to make sure that entry will not be solely depending on assist and donations, and whereas true transformation can come solely from sustained entry to reasonably priced well being care, donation-based applications are nonetheless a lifeline for individuals who don’t have any different approach to acquire entry to the medicines they want. In pursuit of sustainability, pharmaceutical firms can construct on efforts such because the Max Foundation’s program for continual myeloid leukemia or the Mectizan Donation Program to fight river blindness, with the aim of serving to low-resource international locations obtain financial sustainability in well being care over time.

Each pharmaceutical firm that’s severe about sustainability ought to problem itself to reframe its interpretation of what “sustainability” means. Companies must stimulate innovation in product design, improvement, and entry by placing the appropriate assets in place to make sure that sufferers are served equally. Earnings can be a by-product of sustainable entry — however sufferers should come first.

Jayasree Ok. Iyer is CEO of the Entry to Medication Basis. Pat Garcia-Gonzalez is CEO of the Max Basis.