Sustainability is a core business issue in the life sciences sector, given its central role in addressing systemic global challenges including pandemics, access to medicine, and climate change. Creating new and sustainable value depends upon connecting stakeholder experiences with business outcomes – from patients to health workers, as well as wider health sector players. Boards must focus on more personalized healthcare and specialized services, leveraging technology in product development and patient care, and fostering trust on key issues like transparency of clinical trials, use of health and patient data, product quality and safety, and the environmental and social impacts across product life-cycles.
A number of sustainability-related themes affect businesses operating in the life sciences sector:
- Access and affordability: Addressing unmet healthcare needs, increasing access to affordable essential medicines and strengthening health systems around the world are all fundamental to social and economic progress. The coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) has further highlighted the importance of the life sciences sector in addressing these challenges.
- Digital transformation: The use of AI, machine learning, automation and other digital technologies is transforming the global life sciences landscape. The application of AI, robotics and cloud services has paved the way to innovative, effective and cost-efficient therapy discoveries and the development of preventative and wellness-focused consumer wearables, personalized telemedicine services and remote patient monitoring. This digital transformation is expected to continue as more than 50 percent of health consumers support the use of AI and robotics to improve health outcomes.
- Transparency and access in clinical trials: Stakeholders increasingly expect transparency in clinical trials and wider access to trial data for scientific exchange and research. There is a bright spotlight on participant safety and privacy. Businesses are demanding more effective information sharing to enable informed decision-making and consent, along with post-trial access to results. Technology and collaborative partnerships with patient and health worker groups enable wider representative demographic populations to participate in clinical trials.
- Trust and ethical use of data: Vast amounts of valuable health data are generated through health and wellness apps, digital or automated diagnostics, cloud-based patient records and other medical devices. There is also a growing number of stakeholders with access to this data, including healthcare providers, health workers, insurers, governments and app developers. A key expectation within the life sciences sector is that data to improve health outcomes will continue along the path of increased accessibility while also ensuring its ethical use and the protection of individuals’ privacy.
- Patient-centered services and more personalized healthcare: The changing priorities of health consumers and professionals are leading to a greater focus on the patient experience, from prevention and wellness to diagnosis and management of disease. Technology gives health consumers greater control over prevention and management of disease and provides health professionals access to better data to track and monitor their patients.
- Net-zero decarbonization: In striving to decarbonize the economy, businesses are implementing commitments to Science Based Targets, increasing energy efficiency and reducing carbon output, decreasing dependency on fossil fuels and increasing the use of renewables. The implementation of these initiatives is creating operational efficiencies, optimizing processes and reducing costs across the sector.
- Sustainable sourcing, product life-cycles and a circular economy: Stakeholders demand greater transparency across product life-cycles, businesses make commitments to net-zero decarbonization and business model innovation is driven by circular economy concepts. Underpinned by an increasingly complex transnational regulatory landscape, these developments are changing the way raw materials are sourced; how products are designed, manufactured, packaged, sold, reused or recycled; how waste and hazardous material is treated; and how wider environmental and social impacts relating to issues like emissions, plastics, water use, biodiversity loss, labor conditions and community impacts are managed.
- Product safety and quality: Fake or substandard medicines lead to hundreds of thousands of deaths each year. Drug safety, along with protecting health consumers from counterfeit medicines and drug diversion, are integral to ensuring public health and maintaining trust and confidence in the life sciences sector.
- Business ethics: There is increasing stakeholder attention, including from regulators and policymakers and also from providers of capital, on transparency and ethics in business dealings with healthcare providers and medical practitioners for the sale and use of products, as well as in relation to lobbying and advocacy activities. The way in which businesses respond to these expectations can have a direct impact upon their reputation and ultimately upon their license to operate.
To discuss the implications of these issues for your business, please contact our ESG leaders