Coronavirus threat to global supply of paracetamol, antibiotic

Coronavirus’ threats may extend to our drug supply with the Chinese factory shutdowns and India announcing curbs on exports of common drugs including paracetamol.

Concerns are that dependence on Asia for raw generic drug ingredients like paracetamol is proving a more immediate headache even as European Union health ministers warned of potentially significant shortages of drug ingredients imported from China.

As producers primarily based in China restart factories, nations resembling India that rely closely on imports of some uncooked materials and intermediate items from the mainland proceed to face uncertainty.

India, itself very reliant on China for pharmaceutical ingredients and the world’s main supplier of generic medicines is restricting exports of 26 ingredients and medicines made from them due to the Covid-19 outbreak.

Experts and public health officials are getting jittery that mass factory closures ordered by the Chinese government have broken the delicate pharmaceutical supply chain, resulting in looming shortages of generic or off-patent drugs to the world.

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French laboratories have warned of possible medicine shortages later this year, according to Les Echos.

Over in the U.S., which has similar supply issues when it comes to China, the Food and Drug Administration has said one drug is in short supply because of the coronavirus outbreak without naming it.

Malaysian Pharmaceutical Society president Amrahi Buang told New Straits Times said although the situation in Malaysia was under control, the spread of the coronavirus, which resulted in the closure of pharmaceutical factories in China and India could spark a shortage crisis.

This, he said, was because China was responsible for producing most of the active pharmaceutical ingredients (APIs) used in drugs.

“We can see that the situation is improving as China has started to close down hospitals used to treat Covid-19 patients and the number of new cases has dropped (in China).

“However, the decision by the Indian government is a signal of things to come in the near future. It will affect the production of medicines. This will affect the country and the people.”

Amrahi cautioned that diseases would run rampant if there were shortages of raw APIs to work with, adding that this would lead to increased morbidity and mortality.

But supply risks have been known for a long time and will require deeper fixes, according to Philippe Luscan, an executive who oversees French drugmaker Sanofi’s industrial footprint.

Bloomberg Intelligence pharma analyst Sam Fazeli warns that if Chinese factory production bounces back while the virus spreads in the EU, it’s possible that European manufacturing will become a bigger source of disruption.

Pankaj R. Patel, chairman of Zydus Cadila said the ripple effects of shutdowns in China with the production of medicines had caused the cost of common drugs to go up astronomically.

He said that prices of paracetamol, the most commonly used analgesic, have jumped by 40 per cent in India, while the cost of azithromycin, an antibiotic used for treating a variety of bacterial infections has risen by 70 per cent.

Patel declared that the pharma industry could face shortages in finished drug formulations starting April if supplies aren’t restored by the first week of next month.

Patel sees a substantial increase in prices of active pharmaceutical ingredients, the basic substance used to make drugs, in the short-to-medium-term.

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