The world is heavily reliant on China for personal protective equipment, India for generic drugs and a host of other countries for critical parts to make reliable ventilators. There are real concerns about the continued supply of medicines because some countries have banned exports of vital drugs to protect their own interest.

India, the largest exporter of generic drugs, for instance, had temporarily banned the export of antimalarial drug hydroxychloroquine (HQC), amid media reports of a spike in global demand for HQC and another similar drug, chloroquine – despite a lack of solid scientific evidence that both the drugs actually work against the virus.

The pandemic has also highlighted the interdependencies within the global pharma market. If the virus refuses to burn out and the pandemic continues, stockpiles of medicines, active pharmaceutical ingredients (API) and other vital chemicals are bound to decrease – resulting in severe shortages.

Fast-tracking delivery

Pharmacy Business contacted five pharmaceutical companies in the UK to get a sense of how prepared they were in the face of potential drugs shortages.

Accord Healthcare said it was “speeding up delivery” of its medicines and raw chemicals from around the world to its manufacturing sites in the UK to ensure continuity of supply.

The company is one of the UK’s largest generic manufacturers and suppliers of critical medicines. Accord said it was “able to provide a secure supply chain of vital medicines” such as paracetamol and HCQ, as well as ICU medicines for ventilators (midazolam and cisatracurium) and anti-retroviral medicines like ritonavir and lopinavir, which are in high demand.

“Accord’s size, breadth and reach means that it has been able to swiftly speed up delivery of its medicines and raw chemicals from around the world to its manufacturing sites in the UK, where it has adapted its machinery and production lines to produce the range of vital medicines now being used by the UK healthcare professionals to fight Covid-19 and ensure continuity of supply,” the company said.

Teva-UK, meanwhile, has “mobilised to keep medicines moving to our customers and from there to patients.”

“We’ve been working to make sure we monitor and optimise our supply chain, in the midst of very difficult conditions,” it told Pharmacy Business.

Torrent Pharma said it was focussing its “efforts not only on the here and now situation but that of the forthcoming months where the supply disruption will most likely be seen; given the restrictions in our manufacturing countries
and transport networks.”

Sandoz, a division of pharma giant Novartis, said it wasn’t anticipating any “disruption at this time.”

“With our priorities being the supply of our medicines to NHS patients and the health and safety of our associates, we will continue to ensure supply of our medicines to patients in the UK.

“Sandoz supplies over 10 million packs per month, treating 450,000 patients. We are being flexible with our current supply, working closely with retailers and wholesalers.”

“We are making special provision for supplying some specific critical medicines which would be made immediately available for ITU usage and are working closely with the DHSC regarding the current and medium-term supply of these medicines to ITUs.

Zentiva is “doing everything in our power” to help patients beat the disease. The pan European pharmaceutical company said it was “working on a number of projects in Europe, and beyond, to ensure medicines’ supply.

“We have managed to quickly turn on UK supply of some critical products at our European-based manufacturing sites and our teams have embraced around the clock shift-working patterns to accommodate these changes.

The company added that “within just weeks” it had developed a hand sanitiser and was planning for a production for the UK market.

In Europe, around 90 per cent of APIs for generic medicines are sourced from India and China – which is a matter of deep concern for those tasked with making health policies.

In an interview with The Financial Times on April 20, the EU Health Commissioner Stella
Kyriakides said that Brussels would use its pharmaceuticals strategy to tackle supply chain
problems revealed by the crisis, notably the bloc’s reliance on China and India for imports of crucial intensive care drugs, including narcotic pain relievers, muscle relaxant ingredients and some older anaesthetics.

In the UK though, the Association of British Pharmaceutical Industry has said that there
are “robust procedures in place” to manage the supply of medicines and companies are taking “all possible measures” to secure supply of medicines in line with government guidance.

While medicine shortages in the UK have so far been limited, the Pharmaceutical Services
Negotiating Committee is concerned that shortages are becoming increasingly frequent.

Help for community pharmacy

When asked what the company was doing to help their community pharmacy customers, Torrent Pharma said: “We have been working hard to ensure ongoing supplies of our medicines to meet demand.”

It added the company has been working collaboratively “alongside our customers and with our industry body, the BGMA, to communicate and understand the major difficulties being faced by all parties.”

Zentiva said: “We have seen an increase in orders over the last few weeks, which has put
pressure on our supply chain, but we are doing all we can to meet this demand. Consequently, we have implemented revised working patterns across our warehouses to ensure we get products, as swiftly as possible, to our customers and their patients.”

Teva-UK noted: “We’ve done some specific things, such as bringing forward rebate payments and supplying pharmacy support packages and resources – as well as continuing to work hard to maintain a stable supply of medicines for them.

“We’re always thinking about ways we can to make the lives of pharmacists easier, and any
additional support we can provide.”

Accord said: “We are working closely with all elements of the supply chain, including
pharmacists and wholesalers, and are actively exploring all solutions within our ability to help ensure the continued supply of high-quality, cost-effective medicines to patients.”

The company added that it was working closely with community pharmacists to consolidate the supply chain.

“We are in regular dialogue with our wholesaler partners and independent pharmacies
to ensure that we are responding rapidly to their requests, and we have re-focused our sales teams on supporting pharmacists to locate much needed supplies.”

For its part, Sandoz said that it was “committed to keeping prices stable for a basket
of essential medicines that may help in the treatment of coronavirus cases, specifically
antivirals to reduce the impact of coronavirus and antibiotics to combat pneumonia.

“We are evaluating our existing products some of which have been rapidly progressed
into clinical trials as candidates for the potential treatment of Covid-19.”


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