While many residents of Puerto Rico continue to hang on without shelter, power, food and clean drinking water after being slammed by two massive hurricanes in less than a month, a lot of big pharmaceutical companies – who manufacture critical life-saving drugs on the island – are scrambling to ensure that drug shortages around the world don’t happen as a result.
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Earlier this week, FDA Commissioner Scott Gottlieb released a statement saying the agency is “very concerned” about the possibility of a drug shortage.
“Since Friday, we have undertaken swift and extensive efforts to prevent or limit the loss or shortage of multiple drugs critical to American patients due to the challenges related to refrigeration, storage and transportation. The agency has been working closely – throughout the weekend and into [Monday] – to relocate products in coordination with our federal and local government colleagues and pharmaceutical companies,” Gottlieb said.
A spokesperson for the Food and Drug Administration had no immediate comment on whether any drug shortages could occur or what drugs in particular were being protected.
Twelve of the top 20 global pharmaceutical and biotechnology companies have manufacturing facilities on the island, according to the Puerto Rico Industrial Development Company. As a result, the island manufactures seven of the top 10 drugs sold globally including cancer drugs, immunosuppressants used by transplant patients and devices needed for people with diabetes.
Overall, pharmaceuticals represent 72% of Puerto Rico’s 2016 exports, valued at $14.5 billion, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.
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FOX Business reached out to some of the top drug makers who manufacture on the island to see if shortages are imminent and what drugs are at risk.
Pfizer Inc. (PFE), one of the world’s largest drug makers in oncology and cardiology, told FOX Business it has completed a preliminary assessment of its properties and only one of its three sites experienced minimal to moderate damage.
“We are working to repair the facilities as soon as possible. We have a healthy supply of finished goods available for patients and do not see a risk to patient supply at this point. Our primary concerns have been the safety of our colleagues and those in Puerto Rico, and restoring our ability to assure uninterrupted supply of medicines to our patients,” a spokesperson for Pfizer said.
However, the drug maker said that it has “prepositioned critical products with relief agencies AmeriCares and Direct Relief that are being used in response to all the hurricanes including Maria,” and it is currently working with these agencies to evaluate the replenishment of these supplies as needed.
Eli Lilly and Co. (LLY), whose top drugs treat oncology, cardiovascular and diabetes, told FOX Business that its two manufacturing sites in Puerto Rico also suffered minimal damage, but it’s not expected to hinder operations as infrastructure begins to recover.
“Our inventory strategy for products is designed to protect against this type of event and we see no product supply risk to global markets at this time,” Tammy Hull, a spokesperson for Eli Lilly and Co., said.
Instead, the company said it’s using its facilities as temporary shelter for some of its more than 1,100 employees on the island.
“Our primary concern is the safety of our employees and their families. We have accounted for almost 95% of our employees in Puerto Rico, and a large number of those employees have reported to the manufacturing sites this past week. We are working to address any urgent support needs they have,” Hull added.
Novartis (NVS) said while it does not have manufacturing facilities in Puerto Rico, it is working closely with its partners, distributors and the government to maintain business and supply continuity.
Baxter (BAX), who markets and distributes more than 84 drugs in the U.S., said it’s still in the process of trying to connect with its employees in Puerto Rico who work at the company’s facility. But as it relates to product supply, the company made preparations in advance to ensure products wouldn’t be affected.
“As it relates to product supply, in advance of the hurricanes, we implemented our hurricane preparedness plan to help mitigate potential impact, including proactively moving product off the island and putting products into secure storage. We have begun shipping warehoused product off the island as well as delivering product to customers to help address patient needs on the island,” a Baxter spokesperson told FOX Business.
Additionally, the company said while its sites have sustained some damage, remediation activities have been underway to initiate production activities.