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Interview: Jayasree K Iyer, Executive Director, Access To Medicine

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On the occasion of World Environment Day, Jayasree K Iyer, Executive Director, Access To Medicine Foundation addresses questions on drug pollution and recommends ways to tackle this menace

What are the measures that can help the pharma industry maintain strict safety standards while improving its environmental credentials?

Pharma companies should take a step-wise approach:

1. There must be clear limits for each specific active pharma ingredient in factory discharge (waste water). These limits should be scientifically assessed together with academic research groups, implemented by the companies and then reinforced by governments.
2. In order to meet those limits, companies need to standardize their deactivation and other processes used to reduce the active ingredients present in factory discharge.
3. Pharma companies also need to be able to assess actual discharge levels – to check whether the levels of active ingredients in the discharge are below the discharge limits. They need to develop and implement the right analysis methods.

How can the government and regulatory authorities encourage/mandate pharma industry to adopt greener drug discovery routes and development practices?

From a regulatory point of view:

1. Authorities can contribute resources (e.g., knowledge) needed to assess discharge limits.
2. Environmental standards should be translated into regulation.
3. Resources must be made available to reinforce the application of discharge limits.

From a procurement/ purchasing point of view:

1. Authorities can build environmental credentials into the terms of their purchasing agreements.
2. Environmental credentials can also be added to tender criteria.

With regards to drug discovery:

1. Developers can, early in the discovery phase, focus on identifying the “predicted no effect concentration”, or PNEC, for the new compound. PNECs are needed in order to set discharge limits.
2. Developers can also study how active ingredients can be deactivated.

Is it possible to make a business case for green drugs?

Not today, yet things may be changing. Currently, there is a race to make the cheapest offer. Yet numerous procurers have started to explore how they can include “green conditions” into their procurement contracts/ tender.

What are the major challenges which hinder adoption of green ingredients, technologies or processes in pharma? How can they be tackled?

There is a combination of factors that prevent any real cost/ risk assessment from taking place:

1. A lack of consensus about suitable discharge levels;
2. A lack of information about the real cost of implementing new technologies and processes for setting, meeting and reinforcing discharge levels; Filling these information/ evidence gaps is still in its earliest days. It is also unclear whether there is any ‘willingness to pay’ from the population or from society as a whole for greener pharma ingredients or processes.

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