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China’s dominance of the pharma supply chain is highly dangerous to the US

March 17, 2020

Editor’s note: The silver lining in the coronavirus outbreak is that calls for reshoring medical supplies and devices is becoming very strong. Which will help the efforts to reshore other industrial sectors. 

New Jersey used to manufacture the world’s medicine supply. But today, the majority of ingredients necessary to make your medicine -- more than 80% -- are sourced from China. U.S. dependence on China for the raw ingredients required to make medicines has become a national security concern.

[Rik Mehta | March 17, 2020 | Washington Examiner]

Months ago, I predicted that if China was forced to close itself down to combat the coronavirus epidemic, or at some point decided to interrupt the U.S. pharmaceutical supply chain, it would precipitate a public health crisis and create the worst drug shortage the U.S. healthcare system has ever seen. And indeed, last month, the FDA reported on the first supply chain disruption due to the coronavirus. More recently, health officials confirmed that there will be drug shortages as concerns over our supplies grow.

As trade tensions between America and China continue, and the coronavirus spreads at pandemic levels, we must ask: How vulnerable is the United States?

There has not been an antibiotic manufacturing plant on U.S. soil for more than a decade. And our factories no longer make generic antibiotics; it’s a far cry from World War II, when our plants produced life-saving penicillin.

Since 2010, China has doubled its manufacturing facilities that make these essential ingredients. At the same time, we have closed down a massive number of our own facilities that were once the mainstay of New Jersey’s economy.

The more fraught U.S.-China tensions become, the more likely China is to cut off antibiotic exports, jolting our healthcare system into turmoil. This dire warning was sounded by Hastings Center health expert Rosemary Gibson when she testified at the July 2019 federal U.S.-China Economic and Safety Review Commission hearing. She cautioned about the dangers of American reliance on China for life-saving drugs.

If the U.S. were attacked with anthrax, she explained, China would be the source for ciprofloxacin or doxycycline, antibiotics needed to treat victims. “What if China were the anthrax attacker?” Gibson posed. She further testified that the centralization of the global pharmaceutical supply chain in a single country places it at risk of interruption, whether “by mistake or design." China’s goal, she asserted, has been to disrupt, dominate and displace American companies and harm its ability to make its own medicine: “In five to ten years, we [will be] at risk of losing our generic drug industry because China will use the same playbook and undercut our own producers and drive them out of business,” she said.

We should be producing life-saving antibiotics at home; not allowing ourselves to become vulnerable and endangering our people, as we have, by leaving this critical facet of our wellbeing in the hands of a foreign country that is considered our biggest threat.

In the 5-year span of 2004 to 2009, drug importation has doubled and the trend has yet to taper off. The Pentagon’s heightened concern about Chinese medicine for Americans comes as the two countries engage in this increasingly acrimonious trade war. Recently, Trump slapped tariffs on $125 billion in Chinese goods in an attempt to compel the Chinese to make a trade deal. What remains to be seen is whether that will have a coercive effect, or a reciprocal one on the medicine supply chain. Despite this, it is increasingly clear that the Coronavirus outbreak is far worse for commerce than the U.S.-China trade war.

Now is the time to preempt the next public health emergency. Trump has rightly called upon American industries to move their manufacturing back home. Drug companies should be the first to respond to Trump’s directive and start the transition of medicine manufacturing in America again.

The growing threat of coronavirus means this is no longer just a hypothetical. As the coronavirus epidemic worsens in China and its government continues to take actions to contain it, we will see shortages of life-saving drugs here at home in America. We need immediate action to bring drug manufacturing back to the United States in order to protect our public health. It is clear that we can no longer rely on China to manufacture our medicine. The only way we can subvert a crisis now and in the future is if we bring these jobs back home.

Dr. Rik Mehta, adjunct professor of law at Georgetown University Law Center, is a former Consumer Safety Officer at the U.S. Food and Drug Administration and a Republican candidate for Senate in New Jersey.

Read the original article here. 


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