CEO newsletter

Reflections on 2023: Datapharm and Pharma’s key moments

May 10, 2024

Datapharm’s CEO, Rich Cooper, speaks about the challenges that many Pharmaceutical companies must navigate, and how innovation within the medicines information space can support them.

Rich Cooper 
CEO, Datapharm

With sustainability targets becoming a central focus for so many Pharma organisations, finding innovative solutions to support them is essential.

As a medicines information technology company, Datapharm has a great interest in how this information is distributed effectively and sustainably throughout healthcare, so here’s my take on the sustainability challenges Pharma are facing and how innovation can help them.

The Sustainability Challenge

The Paper Problem

Paper use in the Pharma industry is a significant problem for sustainability. Millions of trees are felled annually to produce the paper leaflets that accompany medicines.

And producing paper leaflets is resource-intensive and expensive - the environmental impact and cost extends beyond making paper itself to the printing, distribution, and storage of all these physical leaflets. Globally, current paper leaflet production generates an estimated 500,000 tonnes of carbon dioxide every year.

To add fuel to the fire, these leaflets are often discarded or go unread, contributing to largely unnecessary waste.

So paper waste is a significant issue, in particular for larger manufacturers of medicines. This problem is exacerbated by the fact that medicines information is frequently updated, meaning that paper form of this information can quickly go out of date. In addition to being wasteful, more importantly, it is a patient safety issue to have out of date information in circulation.

Sustainability targets and the threat of fines

Pharmaceutical companies, like many other sectors, will be concerned about new regulations for reporting carbon emissions. Non-compliance can result in fines, tarnishing a company’s reputation and impacting it financially.

The Science Based Targets Initiative’s (SBTi’s) Corporate Net-Zero Standard has been created, not only to help companies achieve sustainability goals, but to provide a robust, science-based understanding of net-zero.

So it’s no surprise that more and more companies globally have made net-zero pledges, now reportedly covering 88% of emissions worldwide. As of today, well over half of the world’s largest 2,000 publicly listed companies have either pledged or incorporated net-zero targets within their corporate strategy, with a small percentage having already achieved them.

This sounds positive, but bear in mind we’re at the beginning of the journey and the path to get there has been interpreted in different ways.

Emissive sources within the Pharma supply chain

The Pharma supply chain is a vast and complex. Other than packaging, companies aiming for ambitious net-zero targets could consider efficiencies which reduce transportation-related emissions, responsible procurement practices and also effective sharing of information with stakeholders within the supply chain.

We have some insight in this area, with customers using our supply chain platform to share product information with stakeholders. We’ve learnt that Pharma companies are looking for convenience, particularly with the frequency of product information changes, which cannot be achieved without effective distribution of digital information.

But what can Pharma companies be doing now and in the future?

It’s great to see many companies setting ambitious targets for sustainability. AstraZeneca, GSK, Dechra and Inizio are among some of the first UK Pharma companies to have their net-zero targets verified under the SBTi (in 2021).

In relation to medicines information, what might these companies be thinking about in order to achieve their sustainability goals?

ePILs: more effectively providing information to the patient

ePILs were introduced as a true digital alternative to the paper-based Patient Information Leaflet (PIL), offering a more accessible format that can be kept up-to-date on the same page.

If the ePIL replaced the paper-based leaflet, what could this look like? It’s not unreasonable to foresee that QR codes could link patients to the ePIL from the medicine pack directly.

And it’s right to be asking whether a digital alternative really does reduce the environmental impact for sharing this information. Current findings show the potential reduction in Greenhouse gas emissions by replacing paper-based leaflets with ePILs is estimated to be 90%. It will be interesting to see what other findings surface as the world tests more of these use cases.

Medicines information data standards

Adopting data standards for medicines information gives Pharma companies the foundations in the long term to enable a more accessible, digital-first approach.

Data standards ensure that digital content can flow seamlessly between healthcare settings, ensuring consistent and up-to-date information for healthcare professionals (HCPs) and patients, wherever they are located.

Why is this important for sustainability? Having a data standard in place ensures that the Pharma industry can align when adopting a digital-first approach to information which is more contextualised for patients than with paper form.

Interestingly, the emerging data standard for medicines information, FHIR, also opens up the possibility of addressing stock shortages and finding equivalent products in other countries. This is just one of many use cases made possible by a common data standard for medicine product information.

Innovation within paper materials

Granted, not absolutely everything will be digital in the near term. Pharma medical information or marketing resources such as training materials or event collateral are a couple of cases which we can expect to continue being used in the foreseeable.

To reduce the page space taken from printed PI, a shortlink or QR code linking to the full PI could be a sensible solution. An imminent update to the ABPI Code might just be the trigger for Pharma companies to start adopting QR Codes within these materials.

B Corp: a commitment to people and planet

At the end of 2023, Datapharm was granted B Corp status. Part of our rationale for applying was that it really aligned with our values as a company and would help further our commitment and our journey to helping people and planet. This made complete sense given what we do and our mission to improve healthcare outcomes globally.

Becoming a B Corp is no easy task for any company, but once you get there you join a growing community of like-minded people who are collectively looking at ways to support the environment, among other things such as communities.

Sustainability is a big part of being a B Corp and we’re excited to be looking at new ways we can reduce our carbon footprint as a business; from using B Corp supplied products to green building standards and waste management, there’s plenty of scope for improvement.

Where will Pharma go from here?

Digital medicines information isn’t just about going paperless; it’s about creating a sustainable ecosystem. By embracing digital standards, Pharma companies can reduce waste, enhance patient care, and demonstrate compliance with sustainability goals.

Our work in this space is beginning to show that sustainability and innovation go hand in hand. We look forward to helping our customers with their goals to reduce environmental impact – if you’re looking at how to do this as a Pharma company, let’s connect.

Learn more about FHIR