As Brexit Looms, Novartis and Roche Stockpile Medicines in Case of No-Deal

opened pill capsule with UK flag, with pills spilling out with EU flag on them

As the United Kingdom nears closer and closer to exiting the European Union without a deal, drug manufacturers like Novartis are preparing contingencies for how they will continue to provide medications, many of them life-saving, for patients in the U.K.

This morning, Swiss pharma giant Novartis said that a no-deal Brexit will have a significant impact on patients, particularly when it comes to the “supply and safety of medicines.” The company said it was building increased inventories of its medicines for the U.K. Novartis said it has made it a priority to ensure that U.K. patients will have access to the medicines it needs that are manufactured by Novartis, Sandoz and Alcon. In its statement this morning, Novartis said it will continue to execute contingency plans and “make all preparations possible to ensure continuity of supply to U.K. patients of the over 120 million packs of medicines we import to the UK from Europe each year.”

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With the March 29 Brexit deadline looming, Parliament has been unable to come to an agreement on what its relationship with the E.U. will be like in the future. Without a deal in place, the U.K. will break from the EU on March 29, two years after Prime Minister Teresa May executed Article 50. With no deal, there is a good chance that trade coming from Europe will be delayed, which includes medications manufactured abroad.

Novartis noted that a divergence from the “close regulatory and legal cooperation” that has existed between the U.K. and European Union has “far-reaching implications” for the way that the U.K.’s life sciences sector operates. Also, Novartis noted that it will also have a significant impact on that nation’s ability to develop and deliver medicines to patients. Which is why companies like Novartis and its Basel, Switzerland neighbor Roche have been doing.

Christoph Franz, chairman of Roche, said earlier this week that his company will also ensure that its medications are made available to the patients of that country in “an uninterrupted flow.” Franz said Roche has built up enough stock of its medications in Britain ahead of Brexit.

“… this is exactly what our logistics people are focusing on, and that is our major priority,” he said in an interview.

While Roche plans to make sure its medicine flow continues to get to patients in the U.K., the pharma company shifted its drug safety operation out of the U.K. to Germany.

But, stockpiling may not be the best solution for the long-term. The New York Times reported that two-thirds of the medicines consumed in the U.K. come from Europe and 90 percent of that is shipped on trucks through three chokepoints that will become bogged down without a deal. U.K. Health Secretary Matt Hancock said the government “recognizes the vital importance of medicines and medical products and is working to ensure that there is sufficient … freight capacity to enable these vital products to continue to move freely into the U.K.," the Times reported.

That echoed the points Novartis raised in its statement. The company said it is vital the U.K. government minimize disruption to the medicines supply and make it a high priority.

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