Circular economy thinking is edging into industries across the board. But can it work for pharma, too? Two Danish industrial symbiosis demonstrate that it can – but it requires a change in mindset and totally new ways of working together. More and more pharma companies are placing sustainability at the top of the agenda and introducing various green or sustainable initiatives. But to drive true sustainable growth and innovation, pharma needs to embrace circular economy thinking. A circular economy is based on the principles of designing out waste and pollution, keeping products and materials in use and regenerating natural systems. A circular economy seeks to rebuild capital, whether this is financial, manufactured, human, social, or natural. This ensures enhanced flows of goods and services. Symbiosis is the more concrete manifestation of circular economy. The concept of “symbiosis” is usually associated with relationships in nature – thus called a natural symbiosis – where two or more species exchange materials, energy, or information in a mutually beneficial manner. If you replace “species” with “companies” in the sentence above, you basically have an industrial symbiosis. The biggest potential for industrial symbiosis lies in bringing down the costs for raw, processed materials and waste through better use of existing technologies. But is it even feasible that the pharma industry – which is notoriously known (and rightly so to a large extent) to be rigidly regulated and with limited opportunities for changing resource consumption and, in turn, emission – can go circular? Sceptics may say that circular economy is not relevant for pharma and biotech. There is, however, two Danish examples of symbiosis involving companies from the pharma industry which with their great success and international recognition, prove those sceptics wrong. It’s clear from the cases that there are a lot of benefits to be accrued from industrial symbiosis – both on company level, on local level and on a broader socio-economic level. Both Kalundborg Symbiosis and Symbiosis Hillerød include both world-leading as well as small companies, and all of them – regardless of the size – point to benefits such as: • Lower costs for raw materials and waste handling • Improved competitiveness • Higher robustness against market fluctuations • Reduced consumption of natural resources • Lower emission of CO2 In Symbiosis Hillerød fx, the members also talk about joint solutions to challenges concerning wastewater, infrastructure, workforce and education. Thanks to the symbiosis, the companies can form a united front, which makes it is easier to do something about those challenges. This also means that success is not (only) measured on individual company level, but on a broader scale. In conclusion, the mission for any symbiosis should be to think beyond own operations. It’s the community before the individual. That is the mind-set that enables huge pharma companies like Fujifilm Diosynth Biotechnologies and Novo Nordisk to work together to drive growth and innovation. So, what does it take for pharma to go circular? First and foremost, it requires that company decision-makers recognize the potential gains of the symbiosis. And secondly, that they can establish a cooperation with another company. A range of examples of Symbiosis is presented: The Kalundborg Symbiosis, Symbiosis Hillerød, a new potential Symbiosis in Ballerup, the danish national Symbiosis network – all includes pharmaceutical industries. In addition, some examples of more generic tools are presented which can support the establishment and operation of symbiotic networks.