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Social Responsibility and Sustainability in Medical Research

In developed nations around the globe, consumers seek products and services from sustainable and socially responsible sources. The healthcare and medical research industries have been slower than others to achieve those advancements. In some ways, these sectors experience a certain amount of privilege, in the sense that an unwell individual — afraid for their health or even their life — will accept healing or preventative treatment by any means necessary, assuming that treatment is successful.  

Sustainability in the Medical / Research Sector

For the past few decades, medical research and healthcare providers have been operating somewhere outside the sustainability / social responsibility requirements expected of other sectors. But that clock is running out. We work in an era of educated patients who have more choices than ever before. Consumers in developed nations have the technology, the free time and the literacy to research medicines, diagnostics, devices and providers.

  • In the socially-distant climate of 2020, consumers are spending more time online than ever before.

  • An organization’s reputation can be upturned after a few viral videos, which lead thousands of”likes” and “shares.”

  • It makes sense that organizations in our field should focus on — and promote — responsibility and sustainability.

  • It’s no longer a matter of marketing, but one of ongoing operational ability.

Here, we’ll discuss how consumers use their political voices to make their point about acceptable business practices. We’ll consider Premarin as an example. With an unsavory collection process but a widely prescribed product, Premarin makes an ideal study of how consumer concern can lead to other issues, like sourcing struggles.

Premarin: a Pioneer in Hormone Replacement Therapy

Per this 2005 Chemical & Engineering News (C&EN) article, Premarin (pregnant mare urine / PMU) was once the top-selling prescription drug in the US. 

  • Considered a pioneer among hormone-based drugs, Premarin is a complex mix of more than 30 estrogen compounds used for hormone replacement therapy (HRT) for women in menopause or post-hysterectomy.

  • It was introduced in 1941 by Canada’s Ayerst, McKenna & Harrison, which merged with American Home Products in 1943 and eventually became Wyeth. 

  • In addition to treating menopause, Premarin was clinically shown to increase bone density in patients.

  • A combination of Premarin with medroxyprogesterone, called Prempro, was proven to increase bone density even more.

  • It was prescribed as a treatment for osteoporosis in women who have the disease, or the risk factors

Premarin became a sort of wonder drug, a cure-all for female issues.

  • Other claims that PMU products like Premarin and Prempro could lower risks of Alzheimer’s disease and dementia without increasing breast cancer risks have since been debunked.

  • Lawsuits would abound, as many as 13,000 cases as of 2009. And a class-action lawsuit is still in the news, as of May 2020.

PMU was a wonder drug only until US consumers got wind of how pregnant mare urine is collected. 

The US Consumer Response to an Unsavory Collection Process Leads to Federal Legislation

We aren’t here to discuss animal rights, but the urine collection process was deemed cruel in various states in the late 1990s and early 2000s. In short, pregnant horses are kept tightly stalled and wear urine collection containers until they deliver a foal. The foal is pulled and shipped to slaughter, and the mare is quickly re-bred.

  • Naturally, the thought that animals are bred strictly for immediate slaughter as a by-product of medicine manufacturing is largely unappealing to the US public. 

For brevity, we’ll fast-forward through mostly-peaceful public outcry and state-specific legislation surrounding the transport of PMU foals to slaughter. Ultimately, all situations of horse slaughter and the transport of horses for the sake of slaughter were banned in the US in 2007

However, the actual number of Premarin prescriptions hardly wavered amid the controversy! 

Now, we’re not here to debate the collection process of horse urine as cruel or kind. Nor do we suggest hypocrisy among patients who decry cruelty, yet continue to take a prescription derived from sources they publicly deem unwholesome. The bottom line is that PMU must be imported. 

Public Outcry Leads to Sourcing Struggles & Distribution Challenges

Due to the controversy surrounding PMU collection, it’s difficult to qualify the actual number of PMU farms in North America or around the world. While PMU farming is essentially forbidden — because slaughter is forbidden — in the US, it still occurs in Western Canada. Various animal rights groups claim as many as 90,000 operations exist in China today. 

Now, this author doesn’t work in the procurement departments at Pfizer or Wyeth. But imagine the sourcing challenges faced by those organizations when the primary ingredient in their best-selling prescription becomes unavailable in any country where it’s produced! Reliability suffers, sales taper off, stock prices fall. Patients turn to knock-offs, black market products, or simply learn to live without it. 

All of which leads us to the final point. From a business management perspective, socially responsible, green and sustainable business practices are more important than ever in the medical research fields.

Our Role

At American BioTech Supply, we strive for sustainability every day. Our dedication to on green, sustainable, respectable practices goes far beyond boardroom buzzwords. 

By the end 2020, the US federal government plans to ban refrigerants R134a and R404a. ABS will have converted entirely to HFC Free Refrigerants on all units by the end of the year. Direct greenhouse emissions by ABS products will be reduced by 99%! 

But our dedication doesn’t end there. We recently started the process of making all our refrigeration and freezer units Energy Star approved. ENERGY STAR is a US Environmental Protection Agency voluntary program, designed to help businesses and individuals save money on energy, and protect our climate through superior efficiency.

So contact us to learn more about energy-efficient, socially responsible refrigerators, freezers and cryogenic equipment and accessories because we understand the importance of your organization’s reputation. 


Related Reading & Resources: How Health Care is Pushing Sustainability Ahead of Consumer Demand

National Center for Education Statistics: The Condition of Education — Education Expenditures by Country

Equine Advocates: The PMU Industry


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