Ten Principles of Sustainability Applicable in Drug Discovery

At CRYOPDP, we recognise our pivotal role in the pharmaceutical drug discovery and clinical trials value chain, and we are dedicated to embracing sustainability as a core value. This article sheds light on  the ten sustainability principles for drug discovery as outlined by Evelien et al. 2021. Underscoring the significance of sustainability in this field and its impact on forthcoming innovations poised to enter the global markets.

1. Ecological-environmental impact:

Prioritising the ecological impact in drug discovery is essential for holistic benefit–risk  assessments, demanding the pharmaceutical industry to integrate sustainable concepts,  like Environmental risk assessment (ERA), early in the drug discovery process to mitigate environmental consequences and ensure a more sustainable future.

2. Medical Needs

The medical field faces the imperative task of addressing numerous pressing health challenges,  including around 6,500 life-threatening, incurable, therapy-resistant, and neglected diseases lacking regulatory-approved therapies. Navigating complex considerations, including economic factors, geopolitics, and pharmaceutical profit motives, is essential to ensure ethical decision-making in shaping healthcare agendas.

3. Green Chemistry

Green chemistry, utilising principles such as the Environmental Factor (E-factor), bioconversions, and innovative methodologies, plays a pivotal role in minimising  the environmental footprint of impact in synthetic chemistry and drug discovery.  It addresses the pharmaceutical industry’s ecological impact through waste reduction, resource conservation, and innovative approaches like bio-inspired synthesis and incorporating “green” excipients.

4. Artificial Intelligence (AI) and Big Data

AI and big data automation in drug discovery accelerates synthesis planning, diminishes reliance  on animal testing, and mitigates environmental impact. This approach offers dynamic and efficient processes, significantly reducing resource consumption.

5. Root Cause of Illness

Originally developed for infectious diseases, novel technologies such as proteolysis-targeting chimaeras (PROTACs), mRNA, and CRISPR/Cas9 are set to revolutionise therapy, especially within oncology. PROTACs offer distinct advantages regarding dosage and targeting ‘undruggable’ proteins, while mRNA-based drugs and CRISPR technology demonstrate promising potential for innovative, widely applicable, and cost-effective therapies.

6. Risk and Decision-Taking

In drug discovery, incorporating risk and decision-making models that consider the complete life cycle is crucial for optimal and sustainable decision-making. On the one hand, advances in understanding how ligands modulate cellular networks, particularly through Quantitative Systems Pharmacology, enhance preclinical-to-clinical translation. On the other hand, emerging computational approaches, including sustainability metrics, are necessary to guide critical path decisions with a broader consideration of social and environmental concerns in relation to new technologies.

7. Biomarkers and bioinformatics to support precision medicine

Leveraging biomarkers and bioinformatics in precision medicine enhances the accuracy and speed of diagnosis, including identifying disease-causing gene mutations, and reduces the burden on patients, society, and the environment. This can be done by promoting efficient and personalised drug therapies while addressing non-adherence challenges that can compromise the effectiveness of medicines and vaccines against critical diseases like TB, corona, and malaria.

8. Cost‐effective

Ensuring cost-effectiveness in medicine involves transparent discussions about costs, profits, and efficacy, leading to socially acceptable prices supported by adjusted reimbursement, intellectual property regulations, and related regulatory data protection. The profitability and fairness of medicine pricing, influenced by organisational models and societal-political environments, are determined largely by the initial discovery phase, emphasising the importance of a balanced and accessible healthcare system.

9. Lean discovery process

Implementing a “Lean” discovery approach in drug discovery involves swiftly and efficiently discovering the right medicine, utilising optimal experimental designs. By following reproducibility principles and recognising the need for effective regulation in drug discovery, we can ensure its pivotal role in the success of drug development and the overall life cycle.

10. Responsible research and innovation

Ensuring sustainability in drug discovery requires responsible research and innovation, particularly in addressing the increased difficulty and costs associated with finding and validating novel therapeutic targets. This involves fostering academic sustainability, government support for equitable access, and integrating global sustainability evaluations into the authorisation of medicines. This highlights the need for comprehensive education in drug discovery sustainability within academic institutions.

By integrating these sustainability principles into drug discovery practices, the pharmaceutical industry can contribute to a more ethical, environmentally friendly, and socially responsible approach to developing life-saving medications.

Reference: Wynendaele, E., Furman, C., Wielgomas, B., Larsson, P., Hak, E., Block, T., Van Calenbergh, S., Willand, N., Markuszewski, M., Odell, L.R. and Poelarends, G.J., 2021. Sustainability in drug discovery. Medicine in Drug Discovery, 12, p.100107.