3 February 2010

MistraPharma Highlights Environmental Effects of Drug Production

On January 27 the Drug Administration, the County Council, Astra Zeneca and researchers gathered to discuss the problem of emissions from pharmaceutical manufacturing plants in developing countries. The results from the Drug Administration’s investigation, made on behalf of the Government, were reported.

MistrasPharma’s program director Christina Rudén opened the seminar, which attracted about 40 people to KTH (Royal Institute of Technology in Stockholm.) Following her, Professor Joakim Larsson presented a study showing that pharmaceutical plants in India discharge massive amounts of harmful pharmaceutical substances in waste water.

Very high levels of drug residues were measured in the industrial-water discharges from treatment plants handling process water from some ninety pharmaceutical plants in the Hyderabad region. Of the products that reach the Swedish market, 74 out of 242 products surveyed contained active substances produced by factories whose waste water is processed by treatment plants.

One particular treatment plant studied released 45 kg of the antibiotic ciprofloxacin in a single day—the equivalent of five times the entire daily consumption of Sweden. The study therefore includes calculating the risk that antibiotic resistance develops and spreads worldwide creating a increasingly serious health concern for all of mankind.

AstraZeneca, like other major drug manufacturers, has outsourced a large part of its production to, among other locations, India. In the case of AstraZeneca, this is approximately 80 percent of production. The company has developed its own inspection system to monitor and control the production in low-cost countries.
“We are probably poking around a lot more in our subcontractors’ operations compared to what other pharmaceutical companies do. I think I can attest to that," says Camilla Nykvist to the newspaper Miljörapporten (The Environmental Report.) She has worked for almost a decade examining and inspecting AstraZeneca’s subcontractors. Despite her efforts there are still large quantities of medicinal substances emitted into wastewater.

“AstraZeneca is proactively working with these issues and they clearly have an ambitious inspection system, but at the same time there is clearly a weak link somewhere in the chain," says Christina Rudén.

The seminar ended with a panel discussion among Christina Rudén, Joakim Larsson, Charlotte Unger (the Environmental Manager at the National Drug Administration), Camilla Nykvist, Therese Olsen representing both the County Councils' Environmental Network and the Uppsala County Council. Both voluntary commitments and binding legislation at the EU level were discussed as possible response strategies.

“It was a good, constructive discussion among authorities, scientists and industry," says Christina Rudén.

Mistra Mistra