Could the coronavirus impact supply of APIs?

By Ben Hargreaves contact

- Last updated on GMT

(Image: Getty/NicoElNino)
(Image: Getty/NicoElNino)

Related tags: Coronavirus, China, API

First quarter supplies of APIs are expected to be affected by the recent outbreak of coronavirus, according to survey.

Analysis by Kemiex​ identified that a number of manufactures of active pharmaceutical ingredients (APIs) are located within Chinese provinces and cities that are currently the epicenters for the virus outbreak.

Alongside this research, the online trading platform also surveyed 97 professional buyers, traders, and producers to gather whether supply will be impacted as a result of the virus.

In response, 36% believe that there will be a high impact, 51% a low impact, and 13% expect no impact at all. The respondents noted that the first quarter of 2020 will see the most disruption, with this dissipating as the year goes on.

At present, the Chinese government is trying to contain the coronavirus through imposing travel bans on approximately 16 cities, with a combined population of more than 50 million people.

Chinese authorities have also extended Chinese New Year holidays to prevent the further spread of the virus, on the return of populations to the major cities. As a result, there is an expectation that production will resume later than previously planned.

A number of pharmaceutical manufacturers are located in Hubei province, adjacent to Wuhan, where the virus originated, and in Zhejiang province, where there are a number of cases.

Pharmaceutical manufacturers based in affected regions are responsible for the production of the diabetes treatment acarbose, antibiotic ciprofloxacin, and various over-the-counter painkillers, such as ibuprofen and paracetamol, amongst other APIs.

The virus

The coronavirus outbreak began in early December and, at present, it is estimated that there have been over 100 deaths from approximately 9,000 suspected cases.

The virus has also spread to 16 other countries, including Taiwan, the US, France, and Germany. To date, there have been no reported deaths due to the virus outside of China.

As a result, certain airlines have suspended all direct flights to and from mainland China, while Hong Kong has also suspended transport links across the border into China.

The virus is believed to have originated in a wildlife market in the city of Wuhan, with a number of early cases having links to the market or restaurants associated with this trade.

As yet there is no cure or vaccine specifically developed for the virus.

Industry steps up

Despite there being no vaccines or treatments engineered against the virus, several pharmaceutical companies have stepped forward to offer their expertise or treatments.

AbbVie, for example, has provided ¥10m ($1.4m) of its HIV drug Kaletra (lopinavir/ritonavir), which has been recommended by the Chinese government​ as a possible treatment for the virus, after clinical testing.

Joining AbbVie in the efforts to combat the virus has been Johnson & Johnson, with the company’s chief scientific officer telling CNBC that it is confident that it can “create and scale-up a vaccine.”

As an example, Paul Stoffels explained how the company had taken an experimental Ebola vaccine into human studies within six months.

WuXi Biologics also announced today that it has assembled an R&D team of over 100 individuals to develop antibodies against the virus. In terms of timescale, the company expects its first batch of antibody to be prepared in two months for initial toxicology and human studies.

Having a readied treatment could take as little as four to five months, noted Chris Chen, CEO of the company.

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