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Trade barriers could hamper Covid-19 trials, industry warns

Export bans ‘risk supply shortages’ of critical medicines, according to pharmaceutical companies

A group of industry associations has expressed concern about an “increase in government restrictions” affecting the trade of medical supplies in Europe and around the world, warning it could hamper healthcare and clinical trials during the Covid-19 pandemic.

These trade barriers, intended to protect a country’s own supply of medicines and protective equipment, “do more harm than good” and are “having a serious and immediate impact on the globally integrated supply chains that ensure quality, safety, innovation and distribution across the health sector”, the group including the European Federation of Pharmaceutical Industries and Associations said in a joint statement on 10 April.

Export bans “amplify or increase the risk of supply shortages, disrupt distribution channels, hinder the conduct of clinical trials, lead to imbalances between supply and demand, and risk retaliatory measures from trading partners,” the group said. “In the medium term, they inhibit innovation and endanger manufacturing of medicines, both generic and innovative, as well as innovative medical equipment and services which are crucially needed to combat this pandemic and its aftermath.”

The group praised measures taken by the EU to overcome the “unprecedented challenges”, such as waiving customs duties and tax on some imports. It called on the EU to intensify the bloc’s cooperation with industry and governments around the world to tackle the situation as the pandemic evolves.

On the same day, the European Medicines Agency said it is developing a list of medicines being used to treat Covid-19, and that their continued availability was a top priority. It is launching a system, called the Industry Single Point of Contact (i-SPOC), to enable companies to report problems with medicines availability.

The EMA also said it is also developing guidance on “areas where additional regulatory flexibility is possible” and on “extraordinary procedures” for the supply of crucial medicines and will publish more information soon.

On 14 April, national politicians approved a proposal to activate the EU’s Emergency Support Instrument so that the €2.7 billion funding scheme could be used to support healthcare. The European Commission said the instrument would initially be used to “help fund urgent medical supply needs”, and that in the longer term it would enable the EU to support “any relevant medical research”.