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Warwick Smith, Director General of the British Generic Manufacturers Association (BGMA) and the British Biosimilars Association (BBA).
The industry’s principal goal is to ensure that patients can access critical medicines and that we support the NHS through this crisis. We are partnering closely with Government and all our suppliers to ensure this access continues despite numerous challenges. We are focused on solving problems and keeping medicines flowing. We would like to thank the Government, the NHS and the medicines regulator for unparalleled support and pragmatism as we battle this terrible disease together.
Manufacturers are working continuously to help ensure patients are able to access their medicines notwithstanding the COVID-19 outbreak. Manufacturers typically hold significant supplies of Active Pharmaceutical Ingredients (API) required to make medicines, often six months’ supply or longer. This means that we do not anticipate general shortages of supply of prescription medicines in the short to medium term.
However, we continue to assess the situation, working closely with the UK Government and other industry and official bodies, to ensure that we and they become aware of and are able to mitigate any disruption in supply that may occur.
The very significant increase in the number of patients requiring mechanical ventilation in intensive care as a result of COVID-19 has inevitably led to an unprecedented demand for the medicines required for that treatment. We are currently seeing huge demand increases in some areas and so we are particularly focused on the supply of these critical products.
Guidance has been given to clinicians and the supply chain on how to maximise the use of these medicines as well as the use of alternatives; and our members are also working with the NHS and others to ensure that demand and supply can be closely matched. In addition, manufacturers are significantly increasing output of these medicines, for example by switching from the production of other products.
Our manufacturing plants are running. The disruption of supply chains either due to closed borders in Europe or elsewhere, or the reduction of long-haul passenger flights on which medicines are frequently carried, is still a concern, but difficulties appear to be easing. We welcome the conclusion of the recent G20 meeting to prioritise transport of medicines across borders and the protection of drivers.
The significant rise in demand for medicines alongside other challenges in the operating environment mean that manufacturers are having to deal with new and different issues to ensure that patients are able to access their medicines. Increasing production and supply to unprecedented levels in some cases cannot be achieved instantly, particularly against a background of increased global demand.
Logistics are also challenging due to the restrictions imposed by different countries: manufacturers are having to invest in different transport means, and work more flexibly. Types of production and volumes manufactured are having to respond quickly to rapidly changing needs. Increased competition for limited availability of raw materials and sea and air freight means increased effort and costs, by as much as four-fold in the last case. Many manufacturers are also taking on additional members of staff.
We welcomed the clarity from the Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) and the European Commission around relaxing rules preventing coordination between suppliers in order to support the right medicines reaching the right places, flexibility that the producers of ITU medicines are using.
The UK generic medicines pricing system is very effective and is based on competition between multiple suppliers which allows prices to react to the market. This not only delivers security of supply but also the lowest prices in Europe, annually saving billions of pounds to the NHS, allowing far greater access for patients.
In the current situation, manufacturers are seeking to maintain prices wherever possible despite the additional pressures and demands. Flexibility of medicines pricing in the UK means that, when demand is high and supply is low, prices in the United Kingdom can increase to help secure the availability of medicines for UK patients.
We echo the CMA’s sentiment that no part of the supply chain for medicines should see the current crisis as an opportunity for commercial exploitation. We would not condone any exploitative behaviour and do not expect to see it from our members.