European Drug Makers Told to Brace for 6 Months of Trade Delays on Pharmaceuticals

December 10, 2018
The Center for Biosimilars Staff

With the likelihood increasing that the United Kingdom will leave the European Union without a trade agreement in early 2019, the UK Health Secretary, Matt Hancock, has issued new advice to the pharmaceutical industry in which he warned that there could be long border delays that seriously impact the flow of pharmaceuticals in Europe.

With the likelihood increasing that the United Kingdom will leave the European Union without a trade agreement in early 2019, the UK Health Secretary, Matt Hancock, has issued new advice to the pharmaceutical industry in which he warned that there could be long border delays that seriously impact the flow of pharmaceuticals in Europe.

In the letter, Hancock explained that the Medicines Supply Contingency Planning Programme (MSCPP), established expressly to address the supply of drugs in the case of a so-called “no-deal Brexit,” has been working closely with industry to support efforts to stockpile additional 6-week supplies of medications on top of companies’ usual stocks. In addition, the MSCPP has been working with companies that supply shorter shelf-life products to arrange to fly these medicines in via air-freight arrangements and with wholesalers of pharmaceutical warehouse space to secure the capacity needed to house stockpiled medicines.

Now, says Hancock, to address potential trade delays that could disrupt the flow of crucial medicines across borders for as long as 6 months, the UK government is devising new procedures that will prioritize the flow of medicines and vaccines at its border. However, he emphasized that the United Kingdom cannot control whether the European Union will do the same.

“This is very much a worst-case scenario,” wrote Hancock, adding that “we would, or course, be pressing [EU] member states hard to introduce pragmatic arrangements to ensure the continued full flow of goods.” As far as logistics for the new border procedures are concerned, Hancock said that the MSCPP would follow up with industry “very shortly.”

Industry was quick to respond to Hancock’s letter with calls for greater clarity. Mike Thompson, chief executive of the Association of the British Pharmaceutical Industry (ABPI), said in an organizational statement, “The update on potential border delays for 6 months in a no-deal scenario is stark. Stockpiling more medicines is not the solution to this problem. We welcome the Secretary of State’s intention to prioritise the flow of medicines and vaccines. But with just 16 weeks until the [United Kingdom] leaves the [European Union], we need the detail.” Thompson added that “The Government should to take immediate action to open up alternative supply routes…and tell companies so that they can make plans.”

Warwick Smith, director general of the British Generic Manufacturers Association, echoed calls for greater detail clarity from the government officials. “Our members have cooperated with the Government’s request for holding additional stocks and providing data to allow them to assess the risk to the supply of medicines, and to work with us on putting in place mitigating measures…It is vitally important that the Government shares with us and others all their current information so that we can plan accordingly.”