PHARMACEUTICAL SUPPLY CHAIN DISRUPTIONS DUE TO THE PANDEMIC
Industry Leaders|December 2020
The COVID-19 pandemic is both a public health crisis and an economic disrupter too.
Anna Domanska

Since the World Health Organisation declared the virus a pandemic, many countries went into lockdowns creating a complete shutdown of economic activity.

One of the sectors feeling the squeeze is the pharmaceutical industry. Industry watchers say that many ongoing drug trials and ingredients required to manufacture drugs will face shortages as productions are stopped or cut down.

A survey conducted in April by Pharmaceutical Technology on 3,617 people found that 24% were extremely confident that medicines wouldn’t be disrupted, a nearly equal number (22%)were extremely doubtful. Clearly, there was no united view as to what long-term impact the pandemic would have.

GLOBAL OVERDEPENDENCE ON CHINA AND INDIA

A continual source of concern is the global pharmaceutical supply chain’s dependence on China and India for the key starting materials, intermediates, and active pharmaceutical ingredients or APIs used to produce generic drugs and many branded products. It is believed that 60 percent of the world’s API is made in China, and if the COVID-19 virus continues unabated, it is not sure when the manufacturers will be back in business fully.

In the Chinese region of Wuhan, 500 world drug trials are ongoing, according to reports, and facing disruptions. About 20% of global trials are now conducted in China, up from about 10% just five years ago, according to Global Data Plc.

With the resurgence of the disease this winter season, the question of supply chain disruption still holds true. It is apparent that the virus will continue to wreak havoc until a vaccine is developed, widely distributed,and administered to the bulk of the global population.

At a recent European Commission meeting, the U.S. FDA’s Center for Drug Evaluation and Research director Janet Woodcock revealed that the number of Chinese facilities supplying APIs has doubled in the last decade. She brought forward the risks in over-dependence for supplies over one region of the world for drug manufacturing globally. Representatives of the European Fine Chemicals Group (EFCG) were in total agreement with her concerns.

“The United States accounts for nearly 50% of the worldwide pharma market and imports more than 50% of APIs and finished products, with some pegging the level at over 70%.”

Bristol Meyers Squibb, Merck, China-based BeiGene, and WuXi Apptec are all denying any major impacts due to the lockdowns and slow down of productions and participation in drug trials.

“Our multiple sites in China and around the world have enabled us to mitigate risks associated with unexpected work interruptions,” WuXi Apptec’s co-CEO, Edward Hu, said in a statement to Barron’s. “As a result, COVID-19 has not had a significant impact on the delivery schedule of our projects.”

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