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AstraZeneca and Sanofi tweak stances on Russian operations as pharma contends with war in Ukraine

March 27, 2022
Life sciences

As Ukraine holds the line against the Russian invasion, pharma majors are making a renewed push to adjust operations in the region and supply the besieged country with critical meds and tools.

Swiss pharma Roche on Wednesday said it was donating additional drugs and diagnostics to Ukraine, building on 150,000 packs of antibiotics the company previously pledged. It says it’s adding to its commitment another 4,600 packs of specialized medicines for influenza, rheumatoid arthritis, spinal muscular atrophy and various cancers.

The company is also donating reagents and consumables for automatic testing “of up to 120,000 blood donations and 31,000 units for diabetes management.”

Roche says it’s committed to meeting the need for its drugs and diagnostics in Ukraine “whenever possible.” It’s in touch with multiple global and local partners, plus charities, “to understand how to best continue to support the people of Ukraine with medical supplies,” the company said.

And Roche isn’t mincing words on the conflict: The company “vehemently condemns the violent invasion of Ukraine” and “remains hopeful the war will reach a peaceful resolution as soon as possible.”

Israeli-American generic drugmaker Teva Pharmaceutical, for its part, has promised Ukraine more than $11 million in essential medical products for acute therapies “in humanitarian support of Ukrainian refugees,” the company said earlier this month.

Specifically, Teva will donate roughly 27 million doses of medicines in more than 1.3 million packs, with a value of more than $10.8 million, based on wholesale acquisition cost. Most of those donations have been made in tandem with Teva’s long-term partner Direct Relief. The company says many of the drugs it has donated are on the World Health Organization’s list of essential medicines. They include antibiotics, treatments for respiratory conditions and more.

In addition, Teva has donated more than 25,000 packs of antibiotics worth about $180,000 to Israeli nonprofit emergency and relief organization United Hatzalah, the company said in a release. That aid specifically supports refugee camps and field hospitals on Ukraine’s borders, the company said. “The medicines arrived at the border of Ukraine last week and we are helping to treat thousands of refugees who have fled the war,” the company added.

The company is weighing additional donations programs throughout Europe and is keeping in contact with partners and international humanitarian aid organizations to “understand the emerging needs, and make a contribution through [its] expertise and supply chain,” the company noted.

Novartis, like Swiss compatriot Roche, hasn’t shied away from condemning the war in Ukraine.

“This unprovoked act of violence harms innocent people and defies our mission to improve human health globally,” the company said Tuesday in an updated response.

Over the “last few days,” Novartis says it has delivered more than 600,000 packs of antibiotics, painkillers, cardiovascular meds and cancer drugs to “maintain supply to those who rely on these drugs in Ukraine and in the border areas where people are seeking refuge.”

The company has also donated an initial $3 million to charities supporting refugees and displaced people in Ukraine and neighboring countries.

“We are continuing to support our employees and their families in Ukraine, and those who have left the country,” Novartis said in a company statement. “Novartis will continue to contribute to the humanitarian efforts in and for the people of the country.”

As far as Russian business is concerned, Novartis says it’s still committed to providing access to its drugs “in every country where [it] operates.

“At the same time, we are careful to comply with the international sanctions imposed upon Russia,” the company noted.

The Swiss drugmaker has suspended capital investments, media advertising and other promotional activities in the aggressor country. While it is maintaining access to its meds in Russia, the company has paused the start of new clinical trials and the enrollment of new participants in existing studies.

“These measures will be kept under review,” said Novartis, before expressing its wish for the war’s swift and peaceful resolution.

Likewise, AstraZeneca has axed plans for new investments in Russia at this time, a company spokesperson said over email. European compatriot Sanofi has adopted a similar tack, vowing to halt new spending on nonessential drugs in Russia and Belarus, Reuters reports.

“We stand in opposition to the Russian war in Ukraine and in full support of the position of the international community,” Sanofi said in a statement.

Further, AstraZeneca has bumped up its donation to Ukraine, which includes 24 pallets of lifesaving meds valued at $3 million, the company’s spokesperson said. AZ’s pharmaceutical pledge comes on top of $1 million directly from the company plus another $1 million from staff and company match funding, she added.

On its website, AstraZeneca says it has 200 people in its Ukraine team to whom it’s providing “all practical support possible to ensure their wellbeing, physical and financial security.”

On the supply and sanction front, AZ says it’s “more urgent than ever that medical supply chains continue to operate.” The company is doing “all [it] can” to make sure its products continue to reach people in Ukraine.

AZ is also working with the healthcare community “to ensure sanctions do not impact the supply of medicines to patients in need.”

New Jersey’s Merck & Co., meanwhile, said it’s “saddened by the invasion of Ukraine and stand united with the Ukrainian people who face a humanitarian crisis resulting from this conflict.”

It hopes for a quick and peaceful end to the war; meanwhile, the company’s “paramount concerns” are the safety and well-being of its employees plus ensuring its patients and customers continue to receive its drugs and vaccines.

So far, Merck says it’s donated 135,000 courses of COVID-19 therapy molnupiravir to Ukraine through a supply agreement with the government. It’s also donated 100,000 courses of the drug to Direct Relief, which has partnered with others, like Teva, to provide emergency medical assistance in the country.

Merck has also donated $1 million in support of aid organizations, including $300,000 to the American Red Cross.

“We will continue to monitor this tragedy and update our response as this crisis unfolds,” the company said in a statement originally published on LinkedIn. “Our focus now remains on doing what we can to ensure access to our medicines and vaccines, and further using our resources to alleviate the unimaginable human suffering in Ukraine.”

Worldwide, drugmakers big and small have taken a stand against the Russian invasion of Ukraine. The European Federation of Pharmaceutical Industries and Associations’ ongoing tally includes efforts and contributions from the likes of AbbVie, Amgen, AstraZeneca, Biogen, Bristol Myers Squibb, Daiichi Sankyo, GlaxoSmithKline, Eli Lilly, Almirall, Astellas, Bayer, Boehringer Ingelheim, Chiesi and many more.

By Fraiser Kansteiner


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