Picture: GALLO IMAGES/AFP/BERND THISSEN
Picture: GALLO IMAGES/AFP/BERND THISSEN

JSE-listed local pharmaceutical manufacturers Aspen Pharmacare and Adcock Ingram say the coronavirus outbreak in China poses no immediate risk to production, as they have buffer stocks of imports used to formulate essential drugs.

The new respiratory illness, known as 2019-nCov, has sickened more than 40,500 people and killed more than 900 since it was first reported to the World Health Organisation (WHO) in late December, according to its latest assessment. The majority of the cases are in the epicentre of the outbreak in Wuhan, in China’s Hubei province, but 27 other countries had also confirmed cases by 4pm on Monday.

The coronavirus outbreak has disrupted trade and travel, and wreaked havoc on the financial markets. Many factories in China were still closed on Monday, though millions of people returned to work after the end of the Lunar New Year holiday, which had been extended by the government to try to contain the spread of the disease. The shutdowns have not only knocked China’s economy but also had a ripple effect on global supply chains.

China is one of the world’s big suppliers of the active pharmaceutical ingredients (APIs) used to formulate medicines, particularly for widely used generics. Local pharmaceutical manufacturers also depend heavily on APIs imported from India.

Aspen Pharmacare said it saw no immediate risk of supply-chain disruption for its portfolio of essential medicines that incorporated Chinese APIs, as the company routinely held a buffer stock of two to three months. Moreover, Aspen’s Chinese APIs were sourced from manufacturers in Beijing and Shanghai, which are not at the centre of the outbreak, said its head of strategic trade, Stavros Nicolaou.

Aspen also sourced APIs, including those used for antiretroviral HIV medicines, from India, he said.

Adcock Ingram’s spokesperson, Kavitha Singh, said the company did not foresee a material risk in the supply chain in the short term.

“We generally have more than a single supplier registered for products that we ourselves convert to finished goods. In addition, we attempt to hold safety stock of big ingredients, both in SA and India.

“There is understandably no clear timeline on when this virus will be contained, but our supply chain would be self-sufficient for four to six weeks,” she said.

kahnt@businesslive.co.za