Feb 24, 2020 - Health

Coronavirus stress tests drug industry's dependence on China

A Hong Kong commuter wears a face mask
A Hong Kong commuter wears a face mask. Photo: Miguel Candela/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images

It's unclear whether the rapid spread of the novel coronavirus will actually result in prescription drug shortages, but it has undoubtedly highlighted the potential vulnerabilities of having the supply chain for American drugs so dependent on China.

Driving the news: 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, per two sources familiar with a list of at-risk drugs compiled by the Food and Drug Administration.

  • China is a huge supplier of the ingredients used to make drugs that are sold in the U.S.
  • 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 vulnerabilities to U.S. medical products.

What they're saying: In response to Axios' reporting, Sen. Josh Hawley will today send a letter to the FDA calling the degree of U.S. reliance on China for drugs "inexcusable."

  • "It is becoming clear to me that both oversight hearings and additional legislation are necessary to determine the extent of our reliance on Chinese production and protect our medical product supply chain," Hawley writes.

Flashback: Lawmakers have voiced concern before. Democratic Reps. Anna Eshoo and Adam Schiff — who chair the Energy and Commerce health subcommittee and the Intelligence Committee, respectively — wrote an op-ed in the Washington Post last year.

  • "Depending on any single supplier for such lifesaving goods would be troubling, but when that supplier is China at a time of rising tensions and conflict, it's a national security issue that demands the attention of the administration and Congress," they wrote.

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