“When you control the supply of medicines, you control the world” – Rosemary Gibson, Author.

Could China’s coronavirus outbreak hurt the global drug industry?

When one thinks about China, production and manufacturing superiority are usually the first things that come to mind. Many US based businesses have outsourced all of their production-side operations to China for one simple reason- it is substantially cheaper to operate there than it is here in the US. Major companies like Apple, Nike, Adidas, Samsung, etc. all operate over there and tend to dominate the conversation when it comes to overseas manufacturing.

What immediately doesn’t come to mind is this: China is THE largest producer of the “building blocks” of generic pharmaceutical drugs such as penicillin, ibuprofen, and a generic diabetes medication named acarbose. According to the FDA, “around 88% of the active pharmaceutical ingredients used in drugs for the US market were manufactured in China” in 2018. That is a staggeringly high number.

China’s leading generic manufacturer, Zhejiang Hisun, is located in an area of China that has been hit particularly hard by the virus- the province in which it is located has the second highest number of confirmed cases of Coronavirus behind only Wuhan, the epicenter of the disease. What is most frightening is the United States’ inability to produce even the most basic generic drugs. For example, the last domestic manufacturing plant with the capabilities to make Penicillin closed down in 2008.

According to the Access to Medicine Foundation, patients are typically given inferior drugs during shortages such as these.

It’s time for another entity, whether it be domestic or foreign, to step up and help offload some of the burden that China is facing in regards to their pharmaceutical manufacturing.

Dawn has more information on how this will affect the US:

There are currently 20 products the FDA is watching that may be at risk due to the coronavirus outbreak that has shut down much of China. 

Although, the FDA said no companies are reporting drug shortage linked to the coronavirus, there is reason for concern. Former FDA chief Scott Gottlieb, at a recent hearing about U.S. preparedness for pandemics, warned not only about U.S. reliance on the active ingredients in drugs but also on their chemical precursors.  

Antibiotics such at azithromycin, penicillin an cephalosporin come exclusively from China. There are 44 pharmaceutical manufacturing facilities in Hubei, the epicenter of the coronavirus, that are FDA approved. Of these, 35 produce active pharmaceutical ingredients,  five make finished-dose drugs and four manufacture both. 

With the course of the outbreak unpredictable, and information scarce on when Chinese factories will resume normal operations, FDA commissioner Stephen Hahn warned that “the outbreak will likely impact the medical product supply chain, including potential disruptions to supply or shortages of critical medical products” in the United States. 

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