It’s the kind of scenario that strikes fear into supply chain specialists everywhere – increasing demand for a specialized but essential ingredient that’s in short supply in many areas across the globe. Is it acetonitrile? Phosphates? Rare earth minerals? All of these have been in high demand and at times, in short supply to be sure. Yet it is humble, foundational water being consumed at an increasing rate by the pharma industry. To be more specific, purified water, or water for injection (WFI) – an essential part of stockrooms, cleanrooms, labs, and production environments across the sector. Purified water is not only used in formulations, but also as a cleaning agent in many facilities. And ultimately, what substitute is there for water?
Specialty chemical manufacturers now find themselves with additional demand for their purified water products, while dedicated water purification companies are also springing up in many markets. Some countries which rode the technology boom of the last few decades now find these same businesses setting sail for even cheaper labor markets. For them, the pharma industry is a welcome opportunity to future-proof their businesses. “There is similarity in the requirements for the pharmaceutical industry even though validation protocol is very different,” says Chiang Heng Kheng, Business Development Director for Veolia Water Technologies.
Once water has been purified, though, there are still additional challenges to surmount. “It’s very difficult once you achieve ultimate pure water to maintain that,” explains Matt Boeck, Product Manager at ELGA LabWater. With lab and quality processes becoming increasingly sensitive, the ability to detect and remove even a miniscule amount of impurities is essential. As well, some production facilities are now being built with their own internal water processing capability, removing entirely the need to procure this service externally. While this removes much of the supply chain and quality risk, it also highlights the need to have in place stellar detection and purification systems. No matter the source, purified water will continue to be an essential ingredient in the pharma industry, and ensuring that the taps keep flowing will drive this segment’s growth as long as production is on the rise.