Europe’s COVID-19 battle: Update on the supply of medicines to the patients that need them

EFPIA member companies are working around the clock to increase capacity and ensure supply of critical medicines to patients across Europe. For innovative medicines, our members are meeting the exponential rise in the demand for medicines and need continued coordinated and collective action from the EU and Member States to address the existing and new challenges in getting medicines through to the patients that need them.
We understand the desire from Member States to try to prioritise the needs of their citizens. However, unilateral export bans by countries, requirements to stockpile at national level or forcing manufacturers to produce only for a local market first, all put pressure on a supply system designed to function across borders. Collectively, we have to avoid having a stockpile of a critical and potentially unused medicine in one country, with patients desperately needing that same medicine in another European country. No country today – whatever its size or its industrial footprint – has enough autonomy to guarantee supply of healthcare treatments, but on the contrary. The Commission can play a key role in driving genuine cooperation across Member States, providing regulatory flexibility and removing measures that impact on manufacturing, supply and distribution to be able to ensure that patients across Europe get access to the medicines they need.
These issues are exacerbated by continued logistical challenges. Shipments of medicines, vaccines and semi-finished products, as well as protective and sanitary equipment for our manufacturing sites, across Europe and from India are becoming more and more difficult to organize. In particular, the reduced capacity of air freight is creating a bottleneck. This is mainly due to a sharp decrease in the number of available commercial flights (both cargo and passenger) still operating but also due to various closures of airports in Europe. The ongoing restrictions to exports from India coupled with the countrywide lockdown will add further pressure on the supply  of some medicines in Europe.
These topics were discussed on today’s call with Health Commissioner Kyriakides and Commissioner Breton.  The call followed EFPIA’s publication of the European research-based pharmaceutical industry’s commitment to tackling COVID-19.  Endorsed by the EFPIA Board, the Commitments focus on the search for diagnostics, vaccines and treatments for use against coronavirus, providing support for governments, health systems and organisations on the ground and critically, doing everything in our power to ensure the safe supply of medicines to the patients that need them across Europe.
Collaboration, flexible innovative approaches and open communication between manufacturers and competent authorities are central to addressing the increasing challenges in medicines supply.  This has been a feature of the weekly calls with the Commissioners, helping to find pragmatic solutions to issues as they arise, that put the needs of patients across Europe above all else. It is one of the reasons why making the Single Point of Contact (SPOC) system operational is so critical. The SPOC system is a 2-way communication channel between EMA and individual companies to address issues related to potential treatments for COVID-19 and ensure their timely supply to those patients and countries in need, without exception. With the rapidly evolving situation, sheer volume of issues to address and the volume of requests for information, having a designated contact at the EMA and individual companies can streamline and increase the efficiency of the flow of information at this critical time.
As an industry, we will continue to do everything we can to work with EU Institutions, Member States, Regulators and other actors in the medicines supply chain to continue to ensure the supply of innovative medicines to the patients that need them, while we work tirelessly to discover and develop new diagnostics, vaccines and cures in the fight against COVID-19.