The COVID-19 pandemic is sweeping the world and companies and regulators are working hard to keep up with the increased demand for drugs and devices to treat the disease. Certain products used to treat COVID-19 patients are at risk of shortage due to this increased demand. Most notably, in the EU (which is a few weeks ahead of the U.S. in the course of the coronavirus pandemic), it has been reported that around 30% of patients are hospitalized and in need of oxygen therapy, and due to the increased load of patients in critical care that need intubation, there has been a concomitant surge in demand for anesthetics, antibiotics, muscle relaxants, resuscitation medicines, and anti-diuretics.
Other medicines necessary for the treatment of critically ill patients, such as cardiac medicines, analgesics, anti-clotting medications, medical nutrition and large volume parenterals are also at risk for shortage due to increased demand. This is also occurring on our side of the pond; FDA has also updated its shortage list to include sedation drug midazolam, used when patients require mechanical ventilation.
In an effort to avoid shortages in the EU, there was a call by the European University Hospital Alliance for more collaboration among the EMA member states and the European generic industry to support “an equitable allocation of [their] members production output of critical ICU medicines and facilitate supply chains by keeping borders open and avoiding artificial stockpiling at a national level”. This was announced in a statement by Medicines for Europe, the major trade organization of the European generics industry.
In support of this, today, the European Commission announced a Temporary Framework that allows for generic manufacturers to coordinate on stock management “so that not all undertakings focus on one or a few medicines, while others remain in under-production. Such coordination would be contrary to antitrust rules in normal circumstances. But in the context of a pandemic like the coronavirus outbreak, such coordination can, with appropriate safeguards, bring important benefits to citizens.” However, they also stated that they will continue to closely and actively monitor market developments of these medications to detect actions that take advantage of the current crisis in order to breach antitrust law in the EU by engaging in anti-competitive agreements, abusing a dominant position, exploiting customers and consumers or limiting production to the ultimate prejudice of consumers.
Let’s hope that all firms continue to keep an eye on the big picture and cooperate for the benefit of public health. This would go a long way towards resuscitating pharma’s tarnished image.