Irish pharma sector warns of protectionism as US corners supply

Alert comes after US secures Covid-19 drug treatment for next three months

Ireland's biopharma industry has warned against protectionism and "self-sufficiency" when it comes to the production and distribution of medicines, and ingredients for medicines.

The moves comes just days after the United States cornered almost the entire supply of Gilead's Remdesivir – the most promising drug to emerge so far in the fight against Covid-19 – for the next three months.

In a joint submission to the EU Pharmaceutical Strategy Roadmap, the industry's representative bodies in Ireland – Irish Pharmaceutical Healthcare Association (Ipha), which represents the major research-driven drug companies, Ibec's BioPharmaChem Ireland and the bioprocessing training institute, NIBRT – called on the European Commission to protect the global medicines supply chain and to prioritise investment in medicines innovation ahead of the publication of the EU Pharmaceutical Strategy later this year.

The industry says it is concerned about a tendency by some world leaders to tout “protectionism” or “self-sufficiency” as the way forward.


“For some, this is about safeguarding supplies of critical medicines and medical equipment,” said a senior industry source. “In turn, that has led to a focus on the control of supply chains and to whether production should be ‘re-shored’ or repatriated. That would damage the global trading system.

“It would hamper economic recovery – both in Ireland and across the EU. Responding to Covid-19 requires more global cooperation, not less.”

The US Department of Health and Human Services last week said it had secured supplies of 500,000 treatment courses of the antiviral drug Remdesivir from Gilead, amounting to 100 per cent of production in July and 90 per cent for August and September.

Gilead’s Irish business is a member of Ipha.

Absence of restrictions

The European Commission, which said on Friday it had given conditional approval for the use of Remdesivir in severe Covid-19 patients following an accelerated review process, has also been in talks with the US drug company to ringfence supplies for EU patients.

EU health commissioner Stella Kyriakides has been in multiple discussions with Gilead, including on their production capacity, the commission said. "The commission is also currently in negotiations with Gilead to reserve doses of Remdesivir for EU member states."

“The pandemic has shown the interdependence of the global medicines supply chain,” the Irish industry submission states. “The absence of export restrictions facilitates the free flow of trade. That must remain, without protectionism. EU governments should ensure integrated production and supply of medicines and APIs [active pharmaceutical ingredients] continues, as we anticipate effective vaccine candidates and distribute them globally, subject to regulatory approval.

“The EU should continue to pursue trade deals that avoid barriers to trade, including export restrictions, supply chain mandates and domestic production or purchasing requirements,” the submission says.

Ipha spokesman Bernard Mallee said: "For us, the global supply chain is the circulatory system for the medicines we make, in part or in full, in regions across the country.

“Covid-19 has demonstrated the complex interdependence of the global supply chain. We’ve seen how robust supply chains have been able to function normally. That’s how it should stay after the pandemic,” he said. – Additional reporting, the Financial Times Limited 2020

Dominic Coyle

Dominic Coyle

Dominic Coyle is Deputy Business Editor of The Irish Times