Posted April 14, 2016
German for “health” is what many say when somebody sneezes. In the 6th Century, Pope Gregory the Great came up with the phrase “God bless you” during a bubonic plague epidemic (when a sneeze here or there was the least of their worries). In ancient Rome they intoned, “Jupiter preserve you” or “salve,” meaning “good health to you” – maybe sensing what’s known today: A good, blowout sneeze is part of good health in that it “reboots” the nasal cavity by clearing dust, germs and whatnot with a blast that travels 70 to 100 mph.
Sneezing is essential to good health – and so are modern pharmaceuticals. Whether your problem is an allergy, a head cold or something more serious, modern medicines help make life healthier, more comfortable and better. Energy is there, too, with chemicals derived from petroleum serving as the building blocks for Aspirin, antibiotics and other helpful stuff. And, of course, energy is integral to the manufacture of pharmaceuticals – for equipment, plant operations and delivery systems.
The flu season has passed, but spring means the onset of allergy season, with budding trees, blooming flowers and birds coming home from southern winter vacations. Over-the-counter and prescription medications make springtime more pleasant for millions of allergy sufferers. Americans spend almost $15 billion a year on allergy medicines. The active ingredients may vary, but all allergy drugs and other pharmaceuticals that improve our health and quality of life depend on energy.
Certainly, when you think about developing and manufacturing pharmaceuticals, it’s more likely that lab coats, test tubes and high-tech laboratories come to mind, not natural gas and oil. But creating the products that supply America’s $400 billion pharmaceuticals market would be impossible without the modern energy industry.
The American pharmaceuticals industry spends about $1 billion a year on energy. That’s about what the state of Maryland spends on natural gas in a year. Some of the energy comes from the same power grid that supplies your home. But because absolute reliability is so critical, researchers and manufacturers are increasingly generating their own power on-site alongside their vital heating and cooling facilities. The fuel they rely on most to keep their operations running smoothly is natural gas.
The pharmaceuticals industry is complex and exacting. Lives depend on medicines, so mistakes aren’t an option. The drug industry is one of the most research-intensive industries in the world. Developing and testing new drugs and getting them approved by the Federal Drug Administration can take years. On average, the process takes 10 years from initial discovery to marketplace, according to the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America (PhRMA). Once a drug reaches the production stage, it must be manufactured under perfect conditions – often in sterile environments with precise temperatures. Energy makes those conditions possible.
About one-third of the energy used by the pharmaceuticals industry is in research and development – the industry’s innovative lifeblood. Energy runs the powerful microscopes, centrifuges, mixers, and other equipment that are vital for conducting research and creating the exacting experimental combinations that may one day change or even save lives. Energy also runs the heating, ventilation and air conditioning systems that create the precise conditions that are vital for pharmaceutical development.
Another one-third is used in the manufacturing process. Energy is needed to run critical machines, for sterilization, for ventilating the “clean rooms” necessary for safe manufacturing, and providing the chilled water, hot water, and steam for manufacturing lines.
The rest is used in packaging, warehouses, offices, and getting the drugs to you.
It’s no exaggeration to say that modern medicine is miraculous. Diseases that were life-threatening in our parents’ lifetimes are today treatable or can be eradicated altogether. From the development of antibiotics in the 1940s and the polio vaccine in the 1950s to today’s breakthroughs in treating scourges like Ebola and Alzheimer’s, the pharmaceutical industry has been working for a healthier world.
While the scientists working in pharma labs around the country and around the world are heroes for what they do, they wouldn’t be able to do what they do without millions of men and women in the energy industry, finding and developing new energy supplies, operating the natural gas rigs and keeping the pipelines full.
So, when you think of medicines that ease a headache, treat serious diseases or even let you enjoy your kid’s soccer game on a spring day, thank modern pharmaceuticals – and thank energy.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Mark Green joined API after a career in newspaper journalism, including 16 years as national editorial writer for The Oklahoman in the paper’s Washington bureau. Mark also was a reporter, copy editor and sports editor. He earned his journalism degree from the University of Oklahoma and master’s in journalism and public affairs from American University. He and his wife Pamela live in Occoquan, Va., where they enjoy their four grandchildren.