“The use of renewable biological sources is a key element for Indena, when sourcing a biomass for the development and manufacturing of a botanical ingredient”. To say this – in this interview with Il Bioeconomista – is Stefano Togni, Business Development Director at Indena, Milan-based multinational leading company dedicated to the identification, development and production of high quality active principles derived from plants, for use in the pharmaceutical and health food industries. He talks with us about Indena’s main business, the company’s role in the BBI JU Demo project Grace and the sustainable development policies after the pandemic.
Interview by Mario Bonaccorso
What is Indena’s main business?
Indena is an Italian multinational company, privately owned and funded in 1921. The main business of the company is in the development and manufacturing of ingredients to serve the pharmaceutical and the nutraceutical industry. Traditionally the company has been deeply focused on botanically derived ingredients, but in the recent years it has also expanded to fermentation and synthetic APIs, capitalizing on the experience generated in over 90 years of operations. Currently, an increasing importance within Indena business, is represented by CDMO services: that is the custom development and manufacturing on an exclusive basis of certain novel ingredients.
What does the bioeconomy represent for your company?
The use of renewable biological sources is a key element for Indena, when sourcing a biomass for the development and manufacturing of a botanical ingredient. Renewability and sustainability are a discriminating factor in project selection: new development may be dropped in case there is no possibility to guarantee a stable and sustainable supply, from renewable sources. This is for ethical and also for economic reasons: in other words, as several times it takes years to develop a novel botanically derived ingredient, it makes no sense to start if a renewable and sustainable supply chain cannot be established. During the past years, we have started our SuSo (Sustainable Sourcing) program, analyzing our supply chains (both in terms of environmental and social sustainability), obtaining a gap analysis and taking proactive steps in the areas where we foresaw potential criticalities. Furthermore, an increasing attention is paid also to upcycling, that is the possibility to utilize and valorize side stream biomasses derived from other industries (like the food industry, for example).
You are a partner of the BBI JU demo project Grace. What is the goal of this project and what is your role?
The goal of the work carried out by Indena within the Grace project was to evaluate hemp threshing residues and upcycle them for the production of non-narcotic cannabinoids, namely cannabidiol. Cannabidiol is a much sought-after compound, with a pharmaceutical use by oral route for the treatment of debilitating conditions, like severe forms of children epilepsy. We were able to demonstrate the suitability of this biomass, commonly discarded by hemp growers producing hemp seeds, for the purpose, thus allowing to have an affordable and sustainable source of this compound; and at the same time transforming a by-product into a source of revenues for growers.
What are the main obstacles to the development of the bioeconomy in Europe, from your point of view?
Generally speaking, it’s a matter of willingness. And of public support. EU has been taking proactive steps in these regards, and needs to continue with renewed emphasis. Especially in the first phases, there are investments to be done and the adoption of a bio-based approach may have higher costs associated; but the general picture needs to be considered (including for example the reduction of waste disposal costs, the environmental benefits, the reduction of dependency on certain geographical sources) in a mid-terms scenario. The classical example is offered by fossil fuels vs. biofuels.
As far as you’re concerned, what impact will covid19 have on sustainable development policies?
There are opposite opinions. Some fear Covid19 will delay or reduce the efforts put by Countries into sustainable development policies. I think the opposite and I am rather optimistic on this: Covid19 crisis has exposed several vulnerabilities across government and industry, including the lack of supply chain resilience and transparency. The “every country for itself” approach, which we have seen also in sustainable development policies in the past, has been clearly shown as insufficient to properly handle Covid19 situation. I feel a positive lesson may be learnt out of this dreadful experience, pushing all of us and policymakers to rethink the way we operate.