The critical role of the generics sector during the pandemic

Graeme Duncan from ADVANZ PHARMA explores how successful cross-industry collaboration between pharma and generics companies has helped support supply challenges during the pandemic.

While the world has had to come together to fight COVID-19, so too has the pharmaceutical industry in ensuring that essential medicines reach patients in need. Surges in demand have created challenges throughout the supply chain, from production line capacity to managing the shipment of products from one country to another. During this time, the role and responsibility of generics suppliers and manufacturers has been brought into stark perspective as one of the leading contributors in this industry-wide effort.

A synergistic relationship

There is a long-established synergistic relationship between larger, “innovation-driven” pharmaceutical companies and the generics industry in ensuring supply of established, but nevertheless essential, medicines. Despite this, the role of generics can often be overlooked, however its performance during this crisis has demonstrated its crucial importance and ability to respond to a series of considerable challenges.

Over the past year, we have witnessed first-hand how older, “less innovative” molecules have been integral for emergency treatment in hospitals, and also how they have been central to clinical trial research in identifying existing medicines that can be used to treat COVID-19. This demonstrates the need to keep specialised medicines available for patients, while also highlighting the potential of established treatments, which can be repositioned for use in new therapeutic areas based on their mode of action, therefore providing much-needed cost savings to healthcare systems.

“Now more than ever, it is our responsibility as a sector to ensure affordable access to healthcare and enable the future longevity of medicine development and supply.”

The pandemic has further highlighted how research is not strictly limited to large, “innovator” pharmaceutical companies. The generics medicines sector can, too, play a substantial part in discovering new areas for licensed products to be used in. Value-added versions of traditional medicines are one such way of innovating around existing molecules and, crucially, providing a better experience for patients through exploring new indications, changes to dosage or an improved formulation.

The role of the generics sector has also been able to complement the outputs from innovator companies in the development of COVID-19 vaccines and shows the crucial significance of working together to provide joint solutions to this exceptional global emergency. The industry is undoubtedly a competitive one, but such challenges cannot be tackled in isolation. Now is a time for togetherness and partnership in our duty to serve patients around the world.

Delivery of essential medicines

Many generic medicines are used in intensive care units globally, while others are used to treat chronic illnesses that do not go away irrespective of the pandemic. Ensuring continued supply of these medicines has been a primary aim and only been possible through connectivity with cross-industry partner networks and the adaptability and resilience of global teams.

From dialogue with production lines, through to manufacturing and shipping, there have been countless moving parts in a unified operation to ensure supply continuity. When we look back and reflect on these exceptional times, I am sure, as an industry, we will be extremely proud of the role each organisation and institution has played in the discovery of a vaccine and the delivery of essential medicines to those that need them most.

Ensuring healthcare sustainability

Now more than ever, it is our responsibility as a sector to ensure affordable access to healthcare and enable the future longevity of medicine development and supply. Value-added generic medicines provide an opportunity for society to address several healthcare inefficiencies, delivering improved health to patients, while essentially contributing to the sustainability of healthcare systems.

Whereas large pharmaceutical companies invest their resource and scientific knowledge to develop blockbuster treatments for patient communities with huge unmet needs, generics companies can centre efforts on everyday needs. All of which contribute to an intricate healthcare ecosystem, whereby patients can have access to effective treatments, regardless of their disease or condition. It’s vital that we continue to work together efficiently as an industry to ensure that every day medicines can pave the way for healthcare systems, including the NHS, to afford the latest innovations in diseases such as cancer. 

Brexit and the “second wave”

As we continue to navigate and understand the potential repercussions of the second wave of the pandemic, it’s imperative that we do not overlook its concurrence with Brexit in January 2021 and recognise the transition period we are continuing to work through. In our industry, it is vital that we have multifaceted supply models in place and include a number of contingency measures, such as ensuring the holding of safety supplies of medicines and creating a ‘buffer’ for stockholding.

Investment in dual sourcing is one such way companies can mitigate risks in order to safeguard supply and ensure demand can be met. We know that Brexit will inevitably bring change and we have to be familiar and aware of the effects it will have, but at the same time, as an industry we should feel well-prepared and confident that we will continue to maintain supply medicines during this pivotal period, and beyond.

Despite a large number of unknowns and uncertainty throughout the year, it’s been hugely inspiring to see the way the industry, and particularly the generics sector, has not only sustained its strength but also enhanced its dynamic support networks. The pandemic has undoubtedly acted as a catalyst to instigate new ways of working and has compelled us all to push the boundaries of what we thought possible, both at the business level and on a personal level. It’s crucial that we hold onto the fervid team spirit that we have established together, so that we can continue to find combined solutions as we move forward into a currently unknown landscape.

As we look ahead to 2021, the goal for patients and healthcare providers remains the same, however, this will now be viewed with a new, adjusted lens following our perspectives of, and lessons from this year.

New ways of working in this “new normal” era is something we are all still coming to terms with, but one thing that has been fiercely reignited is a commitment to collaboration and pulling together in times of need. 2021 sees new and exciting launches for generics companies as they look to expand across Europe and bring more complex medicines to patients and healthcare systems.

About the author

Graeme ADVANZ PHARMAGraeme Duncan has been the Chief Executive Officer of ADVANZ PHARMA since the summer of 2018. Prior to this Graeme led the international segment of the business covering its global operations. Graeme has 25 years of healthcare and life science experience across innovative, branded generics, generics and services organisations. He has held senior management and executive roles in organisations including GSK, IVAX, Healthcare at Home and AMCo.