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3 issues global pharmas should consider as the coronavirus outbreak continues

Posted on February 26th, 2020 by in COVID-19

It has been more than four weeks since the Wuhan lockdown on January 23. As the crisis unfolded, spring festival national holidays were extended (and extended again), and finally people are now gradually going back to work—though some cities, towns and villages are still taking strict measures to prevent the virus spreading further.

This outbreak is first and foremost a health emergency, and the main focus of pharma should be deploying researchers to work on containing, treating and curing the disease. However, in parallel with that work, the industry also needs to grapple with some business impacts. Here are three issues that pharmaceutical companies must confront if the novel coronavirus outbreak is prolonged.

1. The impact on the global supply chain for pharmaceuticals

As FiercePharma has reported, the outbreak is already rapidly using up China’s stock of protective medical supplies, such as masks. Because many U.S. pharmaceutical companies depend on China for drug ingredients (according to Axios, 85% of medicines in America’s national stockpile use some component from China), it is easy to see how we could eventually start to see international shortages of some medicines.

The problem is multi-faceted. Some ingredients usually supplied by China may run short because the nation must re-direct those resources to help coronavirus victims within their borders. But shortages could also come due to disruptions in the manufacturing of drugs – for instance, if plants are shut down as a part of containment efforts.

Other nations are also monitoring the situation. Government officials in India have expressed concern that their high dependence on China for antibiotics and vitamins could be problematic, and are therefore evaluating possible alternative sources.

2. Staff shortages at contract research organizations (CROs)

The extension of China’s recent national holiday was the strictest measure ever in China’s history to shut down the spread of a virus. Following this measure, and as the nation continues to contend with the outbreak in Wuhan, some companies are struggling to maintain needed staff levels.

Reuters notes that an American Chamber of Commerce poll of U.S. companies in China revealed that nearly half of them have seen an impact on their global operations as a result of the business shutdown, and 78% respondents said they don’t have sufficient staff at their Chinese plants to resume full production.

Nevertheless, many companies are closely monitoring their employees’ health and doing everything they can to ensure they can stay on track.. WuXi Biologics, for one, just reassured the public it will continue to make critical drugs for clients around the world.

3. Disruption of clinical trials

With some 20% of clinical trials now being conducted in China, the coronavirus outbreak could also have an effect on the global drug development process. Containment efforts mean that some trial patients may not be able to (or won’t want to) report to medical facilities where trials are being run. Furthermore, the need to focus on treating coronavirus patients mean that attention and resources are likely to be diverted away from running these trials.

The road ahead

Throughout China, people have started getting back to work, the government is taking active precautions and this phase 3 trial for a novel coronavirus treatment is showing some positive results. It is important to understand and prepare for potential industry impacts that may come as a result of the outbreak, but we are fervently hoping that the outbreak will soon be over and that the worldwide pharma community can bring effective new treatments to the victims.

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