Feb 23, 2020 - Health

Scoop: Coronavirus threatens shortages of about 150 drugs

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.

Go deeper: Coronavirus outbreak fuels concerns about pharma's global supply chain

Go deeper

WHO temporarily suspends trial of hydroxychloroquine over safety concerns

Photo: Fabrice Coffrini/AFP via Getty Images

The World Health Organization is temporarily pausing tests of the anti-malarial drug hydroxychloroquine as a coronavirus treatment in order to review safety concerns, the agency's director-general Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said Monday.

Why it matters: The decision comes after a retrospective review published in The Lancet found that coronavirus patients who took hydroxychloroquine or its related drug chloroquine were more likely to die or develop an irregular heart rhythm that can lead to sudden cardiac death, compared to those who did nothing.

The final data for remdesivir is in

Gilead is ramping up production of remdesivir. Photo: Josh Edelson/AFP via Getty Images

Remdesivir, officially branded as Veklury, does indeed work for patients hospitalized with COVID-19, according to expert reads of the data that were published in the New England Journal of Medicine.

Yes, but: The benefits remain rather limited, as patients on the drug leave the hospital in 11 days vs. 15 days.

U.S. coronavirus updates

Data: The Center for Systems Science and Engineering at Johns Hopkins; Map: Andrew Witherspoon/Axios. This graphic includes "probable deaths" that New York City began reporting on April 14.

Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam announced plans Tuesday to make wearing face coverings mandatory statewide for most people over the age of 10 when inside public places. The measure is effective Friday and applies to places like retailers, on public transportation and government buildings.

By the numbers: More than 98,900 people have died from the novel coronavirus and over 1.6 million have tested positive in the U.S. Over 384,900 Americans have recovered and more than 14.9 million tests have been conducted.