Comment: Getting to net zero in life sciences

Richard Coxon, sales director for life sciences at Dassault Systèmes, looks at how the life sciences sector can get to net-zero carbon emissions through the use of data-driven solutions and visualisation technology

Richard Coxon

The life sciences sector in the UK has a considerable carbon and environmental footprint – though it gets much less focus than its innovative side.

The NHS currently accounts for around 5% of all UK greenhouse gas emissions, on par with the airline industry. It’s also the equivalent of 11 coal-fired power stations, or approximately 25% of all public-sector emissions.

And, on top of this, medical devices and pharmaceuticals account for 25% of the total health and social care footprint.

This data shows that the sector needs to shift to a more-sustainable approach as we tackle climate change.

The UK became the first major economy to pass net-zero emissions legislation in 2019. The new target will require the UK to reduce emissions to zero by 2050.

For a sector known for innovation and research, it has lagged in contributing solutions that help the country align with an ambition of sustainability

Achieving this objective means all buildings must be retrofitted and decarbonised, all new vehicles must be non-fossil fuels, new forests will need to be planted, and the way we produce our food will have to change.

The UK’s ambition stands out globally because it encompasses all sectors.

And, while much is known about how to achieve this transition in energy and transport; far less has been explored in life sciences.

As a provider of care to 67 million people, the UK life sciences sector could be playing an important role in finding solutions to this climate change challenge.

These opportunities range from the buildings housing patients or research facilities, to the energy and water requirements and waste produced, through to the transport and procurement of materials used to produce pharmaceuticals and medical devices.

As the life sciences sector embarks on this journey towards net zero, the industry will need to embrace technology even deeper, as an integral part of all processes

It’s worth bearing in mind most emissions come from the procurement of goods and services; so better management of the supply chain would help reduce the impact of the delivery of goods.

For a sector known for innovation and research, it has lagged in contributing solutions that help the country align with an ambition of sustainability.

How the sector can facilitate innovation and improve productivity while maintaining a low carbon footprint and reducing waste will be a core question for the industry in the coming years.

There are several ways research and development can be improved, saving ever-scarcer resources.

Technology will most certainly form the backbone of the solution. For example, more-effective curation and analysis of data to replicate real-world environments will help reduce the reliance on physical prototypes and allow for more-tailored treatments.

Capitalising on the ability to test the effects of drugs in virtual universes to minimise risk will drive cost efficiencies across the product development lifecycle, and ultimately improve outcomes for patients.

Collaborative 3D designs are based on breaking down knowledge silos, allowing organisations to create sustainable solutions for the future.

Virtual models will help save costs and reduce the amount of waste the industry produces during clinical trials and the design of medical devices.

Better data analysis will also play a central part in optimising supply chains further and reducing carbon emissions while lowering distribution costs.

As the life sciences sector embarks on this journey towards net zero, the industry will need to embrace technology even deeper, as an integral part of all processes.

3D and virtual models will play a key role in learning how to scale up sustainable practices, and to realise efficiencies and cost savings at the same time

3D and virtual models will play a key role in learning how to scale up sustainable practices, and to realise efficiencies and cost savings at the same time.

We will learn from other industries who are leading the way towards sustainable product design and management.

Virtual universes will transform the entire life sciences industry, from therapeutic product discovery, all the way to delivery of care and improvement of health for every single individual.