PARIS, 17 Apr (APM) - The shutdown of factories in China and India's decision to stop exporting drugs in March has forced the pharma industry to consider relocating drug manufacturing back to Europe, many papers in France reported this week.
This idea has been around for the past "three to four years", Le Figaro pointed out on Monday (pp.6-7), but it has just been thrown into sharp focus due to the coronavirus crisis.
Increasing drug shortages - which have risen ten-fold in the past 10 years Le Parisien reported on Thursday (pp.1, 2-3) - means the topic has long been a discussion topic for both pharma companies and countries which have to deal with the fall out. Salary increases in China - meaning salaries are now only 5% to 15% lower than in France - are also reducing the profitability of drug manufacturing in oriental countries.
But relocating drug manufacturing back to Europe is not an easy task and the ongoing coronavirus pandemic makes it even more daunting.
There are only 60 or so factories in France compared to several thousand in China and India and it takes time to move from one active ingredient manufacturer to another, not mention the regulatory issues.
Moreover, cost still plays an important role. Gemme chair Stéphane Joly was quoted in Le Figaro as stating that pricing pressure is so tight, that companies find it hard not to go for the cheapest option - without cutting corners on quality.
Left-leaning daily L'Humanité also covered the topic on Thursday (p.4-6) by focusing on the economic aspect. The paper stated that the issue rose with the idea that profitability - and return on investment for shareholders - must continually rise. The paper stated that putting the state in control of drug manufacturing and selling drugs for cost of manufacturing would help the problem.
GSK and Sanofi join forces to develop vaccine
GlaxoSmithKline and Sanofi have joined forces to develop a vaccine for coronavirus, Les Echos reported on Wednesday (p.15) (APMHE 66935
According to the economic daily, the two pharmas announced on Tuesday that they signed “a letter of intent... to develop an adjuvanted vaccine for COVID-19", as they want to use the technology available to both companies to end the pandemic.
Sanofi is contributing its S-protein COVID-19 antigen while GSK is providing technology which can manufacture adjuvanted vaccines on a pandemic scale.
The two pharmas are hoping are start Phase I clinical trials in the second half of the year, and if proven successful, hope to start producing the vaccine in Q2 2021.
David Loew - head of vaccines at Sanofi - and Roger Conner - head of vaccines at GSK - are overseeing the working group tasked with the project, the paper added.
Sanofi to create new company to produce active ingredients in Europe
Sanofi is to create a new entity to produce active ingredients in Europe, reported L'Humanité on Thursday (p.5), but the left-leaning daily raised questions about whether the company is merely covering up a wave of outsourcing.
Sanofi stated that the new company - announced on 26 February (APMHE 66361
) - will counteract the growing rise of shortages, especially given that 80% of active ingredients are currently manufactured in Asia.
However, L'Humanité pointed out that in reality Sanofi is as likely to reduce the percentage of active ingredients it manufactures in Europe as to increase them with the new business. The new company will combine six factories already operating in Europe - two in France and one each in the UK, Italy, Hungary and Romania - essentially outsourcing active ingredient production.
Sanofi also stated that competitors would be happy to buy active ingredients from the new business in a way that they are not happy to do so from Sanofi itself.
However, a union rep interviewed by the L'Humanité - Thierry Bodin - said there is no guarantee Sanofi will continue to buy its active ingredients from the new entity - despite the 30% share the pharma will have in it. He added that Sanofi was disengaging from the six factories already operating in Europe because it no longer had significant profits from them.
India reverses ban on drug exports
India is now allowing drug exports once more, after banning them on 3 March fearing that it would not receive the active ingredients manufactured in China to create the finished product, reported Le Monde on Monday (p.6).
The reversal follows the reboot of Chinese factories and as of last Friday, India started exporting drugs - including paracetamol and hydroxychloroquine - to 13 countries including the U.S., Brazil and Germany.
However, issues over drug production in India have not been completely resolved. A nationwide quarantine and closed borders between the different Indian states means that drug factory workers are having problems getting into work.
Bayer to relaunch chloroquine production in Europe
Bayer is to relaunch the production of its chloroquine-based drug resochin - indicated for malaria prevention - in Europe, reported Le Monde on Monday (p.14).
The group's chief executive Werner Baumann said in an interview on 2 April that there is evidence resochin is capable of lowering coronavirus' viral load.
The drug - on the market for over 80 years - was previously only manufactured in Pakistan before the drug was withdrawn from the market in summer 2019 after malaria-carrying bacteria developed resistance to it.
But given the potential explosion in demand for chloroquine-based drugs, Bayer has said it is intending to start manufacturing the drug in Europe.
In the meantime, it is providing the drug to governments for free during the crisis, with three million resochin tablets delivered to the U.S. end of March.
Bayer is not the only company to provide its chloroquine-based drug for free, with Novartis, Sanofi and Teva acting similarly.
Pierre Fabre in negotiations to sell two sites to subcontractor Fareva
Pierre Fabre is in negotiations to sell two French sites to the subcontractor Fareva, Les Echos reported on Thursday (p.25).
Pierre Fabre is hoping to reach an agreement with Fareva over the two sites - one specialising in subcontracting and the other in monoclonal antibodies - by the summer.
The sale of these two sites - announced in November 2019 (APMHE 65096
) - is part of Pierre Fabre's strategy to focus on oncology, dermatology and dermo-cosmetics. One of the sites in south-west France, needs €8 million in investment, which the pharma would rather spend on two oncology drugs.
The factories' unions appear to approve the sale, with one union rep Frédéric Fabre stating that being bought by a subcontractor like Fareva is far more promising than being bought by an investment fund.
Chloroquine evaluated in 10 ongoing trials
Chloroquine is being evaluated in 10 clinical trials, Le Parisien reported on Thursday (p.10), to work out whether the much-hyped malaria drug could be effective in treating Covid-19.
While half - HYCOVID, DISCOVERY, EFC16855, EFC16858, COVIDOC - are focusing on whether chloroquine can treat Covid-19 as monotherapy or in combination compared to placebo and other drugs, the others are evaluating its impact in more nuanced ways.
Two are focusing on its impact on cancer patients - IMMUNONCOVID, ONCOVID - and another two are looking at its preventative properties - PREP COVID, COVIDAXIS - with the latter evaluating the drug in healthcare professionals.
The last - PREAVIS - is focusing on patients in intensive care and studying the reactions within the patients.