Natural Value Initiative

Pharmaceuticals, biodiversity and ecosystem services1

The pharmaceutical sector is both dependent on and impacts on biodiversity and ecosystem services, or BES. Nearly half of all cancer drugs approved by the USA Food and Drug Administration between 1940s and 2010 were developed from natural products or derivatives of natural products.2 In 2002, 42 per cent of the sales of the world’s top-selling 25 drugs were either obtained directly from or derived from natural products.3 Indeed, many of the drugs with which we are familiar are derived from natural products. Aspirin, for example, was originally derived from willow bark.

Impacts include water pollution from drug manufacturing and use, overexploitation of active ingredients from nature that cannot be readily synthesised and the use of inert ingredients linked with environmental degradation. For the pharmaceutical sector, this may pose reputational, operational, regulatory and market risks as well as new opportunities linked to new drug discovery. Pharmaceutical industry investors may also face reputational and financial risks if the companies in which they invest do not adequately manage their own BES risks.


1 KPMG and NVI (2011) Biodiversity and ecosystem services. Risk and opportunity analysis within the pharmaceutical sector.
2 Newman, D.J. and Cragg, G.M. Natural Products as sources of new drugs over the 30 years from 1981 to 2010. Journal of Natural Products. DOI: 10.1021/np200906s (2012)
3 Laird, S. and ten Kate, K. Biodiversity prospecting: the commercial use of genetic resources and best practice in benefit-sharing, in: Laird, Sarah (ed); Biodiversity and Traditional Knowledge. Equitable Partnerships in Practice, Earthscan, London, UK. (2002)
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