While the United States continues to vaccinate and protect its citizens from Covid-19, new variants of the disease continue to pop up around the world. In addition to costing millions of lives (Google states nearly 3.3 million in 220 countries and territories worldwide as of May 7, 2021, which includes 579,000 in the US alone), problems caused by the disease are wreaking havoc with the pharmaceutical supply chain.

Figure: 1Covid-19 Impacts on the companies

Covid-19 Impacts on the companies

Among the short-term effects cited in a July 3, 2020 article on Springer are:

  • Demand changes leading to shortages caused by panic-buying oral home-care medications.
  • Supply shortages of active pharmaceutical ingredients (APIs) and finished products, especially those coming from China and India.
  • Shifting communications and promotions to telecommunication and tele-health, such as 70 – 80 percent drop in visits to physician offices and clinics.
  • Changes in the focus of research and development programs to dealing with Covid-19.

Long-term effects on the pharmaceutical industry cited in the Springer article include:

  • Delayed approvals for non-Covid-related pharmaceutical product, partly caused by the closure or semi-closure of regulatory agencies.
  • Self-sufficiency and lower demand for APIs and finished products made in China and India caused by individual countries and organizations such as the European Union looking at the health needs of its citizens.
  • Slowed growth resulting from economic slow-downs in economies around the globe.
  • Ethical issues caused by poorly researched clinical therapies.
  • Consumption changes of health products by consumers.

By the Numbers

  • A 2-fold increase in investigational treatments in the U.S.
  • 100% – 700% increase in the use of medicines to treat Covid-19 in U.S. hospitals (January-July 2020).
  • 7 million excess prescriptions for hypertension, 6 million for mental health, 5 million for respiratory problems, 4 million for diabetes and 2 million for anxiety in the U.S. alone.
  • 156 clinical trials for Covid-19 in the Middle East and 140 in the EU.
  • 70%-80% reduction in patient visits to doctors’ offices in the EU.
  • 23% of patient interactions in the EU are done online.

Supply Chain Effects

Deloitte produced its “Covid-19 Response for Pharma companies: Respond. Recover. Thrive” report. Among the report’s sections is a look at Supply Chain Management.

Key risks in procurement cited by Deloitte are:

  • Quality checks of received materials. Mitigation measures include increasing warehouse space for quarantining shipments from China.
  • Shortages of raw materials, APIs and solvents due to dependency, inadequate materials to complete BOMS/batch size processing. Mitigate by boosting stocks of critical inventory, evaluating alternate sourcing of impacted materials and using government support policies when looking at investments in production plants.
  • Shutdowns of vendor plants. Mitigate by identifying shutdowns from remote (i.e., Asian) sources and pressure test supply chains for various scenarios.

Key risks for planning include:

  • Expiration of materials and monitoring for reassessments and quality certificates. Mitigate by submitting studies to the FDA with the longest agreeable expiration date.
  • Shutdowns of contract manufacturers. Mitigate though communication regarding their ability to deliver products.
  • Quality control checks at contract manufacturers or traded goods for contamination issues. Mitigate by having quality control personnel on-site and thoroughly sanitizing all in-bound products, employees and equipment.
  • Contamination after final packaging. Mitigate by disinfecting shipments before delivery and providing photographic proof.

Logistics and transportation risks cited by Deloitte include:

  • Non-availability of local transportation to move raw materials and finished goods. Mitigate by locating alternate partners and getting approval to move essential drugs should a lockdown occur.
  • Contamination issues from transport vehicles. Mitigate by disinfecting all vehicles, planning to store temperature-sensitive products and arranging warehouse space.

Export risks are:

  • Contractual compliance. Mitigate by ensuring the person(s) collecting the order is aware of any regulatory restrictions.
  • Contractual terms with domestic and export customers. Mitigate by seeking advice from insurance brokers and engaging early with clients to determine what could work if supply chain challenges or personnel issues occur.

Continuing Effects

Disposable components for single use systems are being shunted to Covid programs at the expense of other critical programs. This is one of the continuing effects on the supply chain cited by Contract Pharma in its Covid-19 Impact Report.

Kay Schmidt of Catalent said finding vaccines and target therapies for Covid-19 has boosted demand for its services. The increased demand “has led to greater collaboration and innovation between partners, regulators and throughout supply chains to meet key milestones” plus internal and external management, planning and communication to ensure resource allocation for multiple programs.

James Rogers of Sterling said, “The impact of the global pandemic has exposed the fragility of the pharmaceutical supply chain.” He predicts that supply chain resilience and reliability will be given the same importance as price when developing future supply strategies.

Danita Broyles of U.S. Pharmacopeia is quoted by Contract Pharma as saying, “The decrease in on-site inspections has the potential to increase quality risks to the global supply chain,” adding pressure to manufacturers and suppliers to ensure the quality of their products.

Ben Wylie of ChargePoint Technology said that, “many governments are now pushing the industry to rethink its model to safeguard drug production.” He cited a program in India to reduce reliance on China for critical drugs and APIs.

Covid-19’s Impact on Regulatory Practices

Covid-19 will have an ongoing impact on regulations in the areas of clinical study trial design, clinical trial study development and post-clinical trial regulatory submissions, Dr. Ronan Brown of IQVIA wrote in an article on European Pharmaceutical Review.

Among the changes forced on drug makers is a more decentralized approach to collecting patient information and rapid access to regulators, Dr. Brown said. This includes pre-investigational new drug meetings with the FDA now granted in less than 30 days. The FDA has also taken steps to accelerate the review and start of new studies. Flagging potential obstacles and safety concerns during these early meetings lets pharmaceutical companies move faster into human trials, he explained.

Decentralized clinical trials, which he expects will ultimately cost about the same as the traditional versions, will offer greater diversity in terms of patient cohorts along with increased mobility and convenience.

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