UPDATE : Tuesday, November 20, 2018
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Multinationals often cause drug shortages
  • By So Jae-hyeon
  • Published 2017.11.14 15:28
  • Updated 2017.11.14 15:28
  • comments 0

Multinational pharmaceutical companies are causing drug shortages frequently in South Korea, industry sources said.

According to drug wholesalers, Pfizer Korea, MSD Korea, and Bayer Korea, which import finished medicines without a factory in Korea, have recently sent out notices to medicine distributors that their drugs were out of stock.

Bayer Korea notified their clients that its products, including Aspirin Protect Tab. 100 mg and Adalat OROS SR Tab. 60 mg, have been sold out, due to the overhaul of Bayer’s factory in Leverkusen, Germany. The company plans to resume the supply of Aspirin Protect on Nov. 23, and Adalat OROS SR in mid-December, according to Bayer Korea.

Pfizer Korea also sent out a notice to local medicine distributors that Celebrex Cap. 100 mg is unavailable for immediate sale, due to damages to a factory in the wake of a typhoon in Puerto Rico on Oct. 20.

MSD Korea also said in early October that partial destruction of its factory in the U.S., struck by a massive typhoon, has made it difficult to supply Atozet Tab., Fosamax-group products, Cozaar Tab., and Implanon NXT.

Also, GlaxoSmithKline October notified its clients early last month that its Hepsera Tab. 10 mg is temporarily out of stock. Last year, the Korea Hospital Pharmacy Association picked GSK as the drugmaker with most frequent drug shortages.

Medicine distributors said drug shortages coming from natural disasters are unavoidable. However, renovations or relocation of factories and wrong demand estimations should not be the reason for drug shortages, they said.

“Multinational pharmaceutical firms unilaterally notify of drug shortages. Some of them almost forced us to explain to pharmacies and hospitals about the reasons why the drugs were in shortages,” said an official at a mid-sized drug distribution company. “They were the ones who caused the drug shortages, but they are the least to take responsibility.”

However, multinational firms attribute the drug shortages to a structural problem in global distribution.

As they focus on massive production of a handful of original drugs, their Korean units import them by estimating an annual demand. The estimation of a long-term demand makes it difficult for Korean units to purchase additional drugs. Mergers and acquisitions among marketing divisions of pharmaceutical firms or the relocation of factories may also disrupt global drug distribution.

Indeed, when Novartis moved a factory of tea-type flu medicine Theraflu to France, the drug needed a renewal of local approval due to change in manufacturers. The drug was out of stock for more than a year in Korea.


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