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HDA UK Media and Political Bulletin – 19 May 2021

Media Summary

Microchips, medicines and metals: Britain looks to revive its industrial base

The Telegraph, Tim Wallace and Russell Lynch, 18 May 2021

The Telegraph reports on the impact that the pandemic has had on the UK’s industrial supply chain. Trust in pharmaceuticals declined during the pandemic due to the threat to the production of drugs and vaccines posed by global export bans on key medicines and crucial components.

There are now calls for the UK to improve its domestic supply chains to help companies prevent global shortages.

In the article Martin Sawer, Executive Director of the HDA, notes that the concentration of manufacture of active ingredients in key drugs often in just one or two factories in India or China makes supplies vulnerable to a natural disaster, fire or political or regulatory shift.

Rick Greville at the Association of the British Pharmaceutical Industry said: “It is not practical to think each individual country can have the manufacturing ability to supply all medicines within their country.”

Additionally, he said: “What is feasible is for manufacturing sites to be selected satisfying various criteria, and one important criteria is the ability to move that medicine to countries which need to be supplied.”

 

Pfizer vaccine can be stored in fridge much longer than thought, says European drugs regulator

Independent, Tom Batchelor, 19 May 2021

The Independent reports that the European Medicines Agency has announced that the Pfizer coronavirus vaccine can be stored at normal fridge temperatures after coming out of a deep-freezer for much longer than was initially recommended. The jab can safely be kept at between 2°C and 8°C for up to a month, compared to the five days previously recommended.

The updated information makes it easier to transport and distribute the vaccine. Additionally, the new advice could mean that fewer vaccines are wasted as they can be kept outside of freezers for longer.

 

NI pharmacists voice concern about impact of Protocol

P3 Pharmacy, Pharmacy Magazine, 18 May 2021

P3 Pharmacy reports that a community pharmacy representative said that the UK and European Union must engage in constructive discussions to ensure the continued supply of medicines in Northern Ireland.

Gerard Greene, Chief Executive of sector negotiator Community Pharmacy Northern Ireland, was commenting on 17th May 2021 on a motion brought to the NI Assembly regarding the supply of medicines from Great Britain.

Mr Greene remarked: “Under the terms of the NI Protocol, Northern Ireland will align with EU regulations on medicines whilst GB will maintain current arrangements.”

The British Generic Manufacturers Association said in April that some of its member companies were already “seeing major challenges to supplying medicines to Northern Ireland patients”.

Mark Samuels, Chief of the British Generic Manufacturers Association (BGMA) said, “without a solution immediately, some manufacturers report that up to 90 per cent of medicines could be at risk of being withdrawn.”

 Parliamentary Coverage

There was no parliamentary coverage today.

Full Coverage

Microchips, medicines and metals: Britain looks to revive its industrial base

The Telegraph, Tim Wallace and Russell Lynch, 18 May 2021

Robots might be ultra-efficient, but they are also frustratingly reliant on all-too-fallible humans.

Brian Palmer, chief executive of Blyth-based robotics company Tharsus, knows this only too well after being repeatedly let down by suppliers of crucial components.

“There’s a new phrase I’ve not heard before, which is “de-commit”. So maybe a week or two before something’s due to land we get a “de-commitment” – the supplier de-commits to supplying it,” he says.

Contracts “don’t seem to matter”.

Delays, he says, are becoming routine: “One of our motor suppliers who we also buy drives from – one of the largest in the world – just increased lead times from six to 26 weeks two or three weeks ago.”

For Palmer, supply problems range from basics, such as resistors and capacitors, through to microchips – a shortage of which has hit production in industries such as car manufacturing across the world.

Even fairly common steel products are now in short supply, he says: “Your mill prices are almost doubled on mild steel and on speciality steel, maybe up to 200pc. Their availability is a challenge as well.”

Palmer is now trying to make his business more resilient by holding at least two months of stock, but even that may not be enough.

Calls are now growing for the UK to ramp up its domestic supply chains to help companies like Tharsus avoid global shortages.

One area that could benefit is semiconductors. Soaring demand for consumer gadgets combined with the after effects of pandemic lockdowns in Asia have combined to produce a global shortage in the vital components used to manufacture everything from speakers to cars.

Tony Danker, director general of the CBI, argues that Britain cannot simply try to build a domestic alternative to such a highly specialised global industry.

“If the goal now is to build self-sufficient islands, I don’t think that is a good outcome, I don’t think it is a highly productive outcome, and it is a terrible reversal of the benefits of global trade,” he says.

“We’ve got a semiconductor cluster in South Wales to be proud of, but the scale of the challenge is a global one.”

Trying to cut back on international trade could also harm local prosperity. The risk is that once trust starts to break down, governments feel they have little choice but to step in to boost domestic production.

The steel industry – strategically important for defence but also wider manufacturing and construction – is already in the middle of a global trade war.

The EU imposed tariffs on imports after the US fired up protectionist barriers. Britain is due to review these “steel safeguards” this week.

Richard Warren at industry group UK Steel says the measures must be temporary, but that for now “if the UK Government was to get rid of them or weaken them, it would really impact on the sector’s ability to recover” from the pandemic.

“We would be one of the very few completely open markets in the world. The UK is a small market, and it can be flooded,” he warns.

“The EU is not going to provide free and open access to its markets. The US isn’t going to.  It may sound parochial, but why should the UK, if they are not reciprocating?”

Kallum Pickering, economist at Berenberg Bank, says there is a risk of spiralling protectionism, destroying the benefits of free trade for the sake of perceived resilience.

Once one country pulls back from globalisation, others end up doing the same.

“If this is a symptom of widespread fears about global supply chain security, then what we have is another reason to be worried about globalisation going into reverse,” he says, adding that “the whole global trade system is built on trust”. Once trust goes, then free trade gives way to a scramble for resources.

“The lesson of history is pretty clear – trade is a much more optimal situation than some kind of mercantilist-style approach.”

Trust is clearly lacking in pharmaceuticals, as pandemic-panicked politicians around the world hit export bans on key medicines and crucial components.

The net result was a threat to the world’s ability to create drugs and vaccines.

Martin Sawer, executive director of the Healthcare Distribution Association, notes that the concentration of manufacture of active ingredients in key drugs often in just one or two factories in India or China makes supplies vulnerable to a natural disaster, fire or political or regulatory shift.

But liberalisation, not nationalism, is the way to ensure resilient supply, according to Rick Greville at the Association of the British Pharmaceutical Industry.

“It is not practical to think each individual country can have the manufacturing ability to supply all medicines within their country. That isn’t feasible,” he says, calling moves to reshore manufacturing or to stockpile drugs “simplistic”.

“But what is feasible is for manufacturing sites to be selected satisfying various criteria, and one important criteria is the ability to move that medicine to countries which need to be supplied.”

That means governments which commit to open trade are more likely to attract a factory to their shores than ones which impose export controls to secure short-term supply.

Businesses themselves might be driving the shift to a more resilient economy more than governments ever could.

Duncan Brock at the Chartered Institute of Procurement and Supply says companies are reviewing supply chains to minimise disruption, and address consumer concerns over issues such as the environment and forced labour.

“Buying everything from one sole supplier in China has been exposed as something that is not ideal,” he says.

Once reliability and sustainability are factored in, shopping locally might even be better value.

“Is buying local more expensive? The price might be more expensive, but once you add in freight, transport, insurance, stockpiles and everything else, the total cost might be the same or cheaper,” he says.

“You might have something [from China] which is cheap, but if you cannot get it then it is extremely expensive.”

 

Pfizer vaccine can be stored in fridge much longer than thought, says European drugs regulator

Independent, Tom Batchelor, 19 May 2021

Pfizer’s coronavirus vaccine can be stored at normal fridge temperatures after coming out of a deep-freezer for much longer than was initially recommended, the European Medicines Agency has said.

The jab can safely be kept at between 2C and 8C for up to a month (31 days), the regulator said in an update published on Monday, versus the five days that had been recommended until now.

The announcement will address one of the major drawbacks of Pfizer vaccine, that it needed to be administered soon after being removed from expensive ultralow temperature freezers.

This had limited where the jab could be offered, since poorer countries and remote areas often lack the network of deep freezers required to store the jab. It has also made the transport and distribution of the vaccine more complicated and expensive.

The updated advice is likely to result in fewer vials being thrown away.

 

NI pharmacists voice concern about impact of Protocol

P3 Pharmacy, Pharmacy Magazine, 18 May 2021

The UK and European Union must engage in constructive talks to ensure the continued supply of medicines in Northern Ireland, a community pharmacy representative has said.

Gerard Greene, chief executive of sector negotiator Community Pharmacy Northern Ireland, was commenting last night (May 17) on a motion brought to the NI Assembly concerning the supply of medicines from Great Britain – one of the major concerns sparked by the Northern Ireland Protocol.

Mr Greene commented: “Under the terms of the NI Protocol, Northern Ireland will align with EU regulations on medicines whilst GB will maintain current arrangements. Currently, Northern Ireland receives approximately 98 per cent of its medicines and medical supplies from Great Britain and at industry and Government levels, huge efforts are going into looking at a range of ways, including the re-routing of medicines, to mitigate against any disruptions.

“As time ticks down, local community pharmacy teams from across Northern Ireland are becoming increasingly concerned about not having the same access to medicines that they do currently. The Department of Health understands and appreciates our concerns.

“The worry is that if solutions are not sought now and implemented in time, then supplies into Northern Ireland are at risk. We need to have arrangements in place that protect us against this happening. With the 12-month grace period set to expire at the end of December 2021 there is still a significant amount of work to do.

“We would call for open and constructive engagement between the UK and the EU to find long-term and workable solutions to this so that people in Northern Ireland do not experience any disruption in the supply of essential medicines and medical devices.”

The British Generic Manufacturers Association said in April that some of its member companies were already “seeing major challenges to supplying medicines to Northern Ireland patients”.

“Without a solution immediately, some manufacturers report that up to 90 per cent of medicines could be at risk of being withdrawn,” said BGMA chief Mark Samuels.

HDA UK Media and Political Bulletin – 19 May 2021

From Factory to Pharmacy

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