St. John’s-based Unbound Chemicals is tackling a big problem – the waste produced by the pharmaceutical industry.
The company is developing a process to unlock the valuable ingredients from pharmaceutical waste. It’s an issue that has been highlighted by the pandemic, which has revealed faultlines in global supply chains, according to Blaine Edwards, company Founder and CEO.
Unbound began in 2018 after Edwards read that, in general, for every kilogram of drug produced, 100 kilograms of waste are created.
“I wondered why. How could this possibly be the case?” said Edwards in an interview.
“It’s almost like the industry was grandfathered in…Most processes are unchanged since WWII.”
He said that a lobby in the industry promotes outsourcing to developing countries, circumventing the need to innovate processes and that “it’s a pain industry has learned to live with.”
“Within manufacturing processes, there are opportunities for recovery or repurposing of the waste created, but most pharmaceutical companies haven’t done so because it’s always cheaper to buy more,” said Edwards, who has founded two previous companies, neither of them health-related.
But change is coming: the Food and Drug Administration and the European Medicines Agency have both said it’s necessary to start thinking about supply chain risk management.
Unbound’s solution involves a chemical retrieval process developed by Chief Science Officer Ali Azizi. The company has replicated earlier studies done by others and verified that their new process works just as well and is more efficient, Edwards said.
“The process is faster and can be used on a larger scale. That’s the difference.”
The process is currently being trialed by pharmaceutical companies, while the company goes through the CDL-Atlantic accelerator.
Edwards said he is not aware of directly competing technologies.
“No one has googled ‘pharmaceutical recovery’ more than I have,” he said with a chuckle. “If we have competitors, they are well hidden. I’m confident that this is a niche we are carving out.”
Meanwhile, they await trial results.
“The companies we are working with are massive, they’re not nimble startups. It’s weeks between emails and meetings,” he said.
“But we are convinced the pain is there and that companies recognize that the regulations are changing, especially in the E.U., and they can’t continue that 1:100 ratio…We hope we will be a top solution.”
To date, the company, which grew out of a Hacking Health event in St. John’s, has been funded with grants, money from the Genesis Centre, and the National Research Council.
As he builds the venture, Edwards is also completing a Masters of Science in Management at Memorial University of Newfoundland, and has recently become entrepreneur-in-residence at Bounce Health Innovation.
“I’ve been building a company over Zoom during a pandemic,” he said. “I’ve made decent progress from my laundry room so can maybe help younger entrepreneurs.”