Feb 23, 2020 - Health

Scoop: Coronavirus threatens shortages of about 150 drugs

A photo of a medical worker in Beijing.
A medical worker in Beijing. Photo: Greg Baker/AFP via Getty Images

About 150 prescription drugs — including antibiotics, generics and some branded drugs without alternatives — are at risk of shortage if the coronavirus outbreak in China worsens, according to two sources familiar with a list of at-risk drugs compiled by the Food and Drug Administration.

Why it matters: China is a huge supplier of the ingredients used to make drugs that are sold in the U.S. If the virus decreases China's production capability, Americans who rely on the drugs made from these ingredients could be in trouble.

What they're saying: The FDA declined to comment on the list, but said in a statement that it's "keenly aware that the outbreak could impact the medical product supply chain," and has devoted additional resources toward identifying potential vulnerabilities to U.S. medical products stemming specifically from the outbreak.

  • The agency has been in contact with hundreds of drug and medical device manufacturers, and it's also coordinating with global regulators like the European Medicines Agency.
  • It pointed out that there aren't any vaccines, gene therapies or blood derivatives licensed by the FDA that are manufactured in China, although raw materials for many products do come from China and other southeastern Asian countries. The agency is in contact with biologics manufacturers to monitor supply concerns.
  • "If a potential shortage or disruption of medical products is identified by the FDA, we will use all available tools to react swiftly and mitigate the impact to U.S. patients and health care professionals," said an FDA spokesperson.

The intrigue: FDA commissioner Stephen Hahn is not a member of the task force that the administration has assembled to handle the coronavirus. Only two of the dozen members of the task force are physician-scientists, BioCentury noted on Friday.

  • Politico reported Friday night that the White House is worried about how the coronavirus outbreak could shape President Trump's re-election prospects, and some administration officials are concerned that the virus is already spreading within the U.S., undetected.

The bottom line: Whether or not the coronavirus spreads within the U.S., any potential drug shortages would be felt acutely by the American patients that rely on them.

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