Coronavirus (COVID-19) Exposing Global Drug Supply Chain Worries

China, which is at the epicenter of the coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak, is the world’s key supplier of chemical and pharmaceutical ingredients for some of the most common medicines.

China’s factory shutdowns, due to the novel coronavirus outbreak, have brought to light an uncomfortable drug supply chain reality: Many drug manufacturers around the world rely on raw pharmaceutical ingredients made in that country.

FDA warns pharma supply chain affected by COVID-19 outbreak

The U.S Food and Drug Administration Agency (FDA) on Thursday (27 Feb) released a statement that it has already gone into shortage because of difficulties obtaining an active pharmaceutical ingredient from a Chinese manufacturing site affected by the novel coronavirus.

The FDA did not disclose exactly which drug or its manufacturer but said that it is working with the manufacturer as well as other manufacturers to mitigate the shortage.

Pharma experts say it would be unlikely for overseas companies to stockpile most raw ingredients solely for domestic use. But the UK may be an exception.

UK pharma companies to hoard Brexit meds stockpile for COVID-19

In the United Kingdom, due to Brexit, pharmaceutical companies have been stockpiling medicines and active ingredients in preparation for a potential “no-deal-exit” and related drug supply chain interruptions and delays. Now, the UK government has requested for pharmaceutical companies to keep their no-deal Brexit medicine stockpiles, as a precaution against shortages arising from the fast-spreading coronavirus (COVID-19). The Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC) said in a statement that it was evaluating the impact of coronavirus on the drug supply chain “as the Chinese government continues to impose further restrictions on movement within China”.

Health Minister Nicola Blackwood said:

“We are not aware of any current medicine shortages linked to this novel coronavirus, but we are putting in place common-sense measures as a precaution to help to ensure the uninterrupted supply of medicines to UK patients…We have world-class systems in place to prevent supply problems and we are working closely with industry and partners to prevent shortages and ensure the risks to patients are minimised.”

Coronavirus drug supply shortage

However, many are worried that China could curtail exports of drug development components used in the production of antibiotics if the demand for such drugs surges at Chinese hospitals as the virus spreads. Around 90% of the core pharmaceutical components of leading clinical antibiotics such as doxycycline, amoxicillin and penicillin come from China.

Adegoke Oke, an assistant professor of global management at Arizona State University said:

“You could say that when China sneezes, the average American consumer feels it, and this is because of the nature of the global supply chain..”.

Associate professor of supply chain and operations at the University of Minnesota, Rachna Shah, said that despite the FDA doing reasonably good job of monitoring the safety of drug ingredients produced globally,

“…there is no central mechanism to ensure drug availability”. “Disruptions such as the coronavirus expose this dependence on foreign sources and heighten the fears associated with drug shortages.”

Pfizer Inc on Thursday warned that the continued spread of the coronavirus globally could have an adverse impact on its business and financial results, Reuters reported.

The COVID-19 outbreak could have an impact on Pfizer’s manufacturing, supply chain and clinical trial operations, the pharma giant has said under the risk factors section of a regulatory filing, adding:

“The extent to which the coronavirus impacts our operations will depend on future developments, which are highly uncertain and cannot be predicted with confidence,”

Drugmaker Mylan has also warned of drug shortages in case of continued spread of the virus on Thursday (27 Feb) Reuters published. Chief Executive Officer Heather Bresch said:

“Our business exposure in China specifically is limited. However, given the global nature of our supply chain, operations and businesses, our results could potentially be impacted.”

The outbreak that began in Wuhan at the end of 2019 has now killed more than 3000 people worldwide and infected more than 80,000 in China alone.


Reuters: Reporting by Trisha Roy and Saumya Sibi Joseph in Bengaluru; Editing by Shounak Dasgupta – Mylan warns of possible drug shortages, financial hit due to coronavirus

Reuters: Reporting by Saumya Sibi Joseph in Bengaluru; Editing by Shailesh Kuber – Pfizer warns of hit to financial results on continued coronavirus outbreak

Commissioner of Food and Drugs – Food and Drug Administration – Stephen M. Hahn M.D.- Coronavirus (COVID-19) Supply Chain Update

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