UK calls on drugmakers to stockpile six-week supply of medicines to cope with potential "no-deal" Brexit

The UK's Department of Health and Social Care has asked pharmaceutical companies that supply drugs to NHS patients to "ensure they have a minimum of six weeks additional supply" of medicines, over and above their usual buffer stocks, in case imports from the EU are disrupted in the event of a no-deal Brexit. "This is the current planning assumption, but will of course be subject to revision in light of future developments," the health department said in a letter to drugmakers on Thursday. 

The department also requested that pharmaceutical companies provide details on how they intend to ensure the continuity of supply of their products under a no-deal scenario, and urged suppliers to implement plans to prevent shipment delays for products with short shelf lives that cannot be stockpiled. "While we recognise that many companies will already have made their own arrangements, we are keen to receive a response from all companies to ensure we have a comprehensive picture," the department said.

In July, AstraZeneca announced plans to increase its medicines stockpile by about 20 percent in preparation of a potential no-deal Brexit, with Sanofi and Novartis undertaking similar moves, while a recent report suggested Merck & Co. may stockpile as much as six months' worth of goods and revise trade routes as part of its contingency plans. However, the European Medicines Agency, which has issued guidance to help companies prepare for the UK's exit from the EU, last month reported results from a survey indicating that some drugmakers have not taken sufficient steps to prevent supply disruptions. 

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Commenting on the UK health department's Brexit guidance, BioIndustry Association CEO Steve Bates warned that delivering the additional supply across the industry by the time the UK leaves the EU on March 29 of next year would be "a massive challenge." Bates stated that "on behalf of patients we encourage all participants to be as prepared as possible for a scenario industry really does not want, but we should be under no illusions that this will be easy or smooth." Meanwhile, one industry figure questioned whether smaller drugmakers would be willing to assume the costs of stockpiling, and estimated that the government was asking the sector to store between 50 000 and 80 000 pallets worth of medicines. 

However, Mike Thompson, chief executive of the Association of the British Pharmaceutical Industry, applauded the announcement and called for similar flexibility from the European Commission to ensure minimal disruption of cross-border trade. Thompson, who recently warned that drugmakers were being forced to divert funds away from research in order to prepare for an uncertain regulatory environment post-Brexit, noted nonetheless that "we need to be clear that a no-deal scenario is not in the interest of patients." He added "both sides must rapidly agree the terms of the UK's withdrawal and a future relationship based on cooperation to protect public health, control infectious diseases and manage medicine safety." 

Meanwhile, the UK health department pointed out in its letter that the same risks also exist in the EU. "It is for them to prepare for any disruption to supplies in the EU, especially in France, Germany, Belgium and the Netherlands," the letter said. According to industry figures, more than 2600 drugs have some stage of production in the UK and 45 million patient packs are supplied from the UK to other European countries on a monthly basis, while another 37 million flow in the opposite direction.


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