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Medicines

Pfizer triples manufacture of ventilation drugs during pandemic, UK managing director says

Speaking at the Conservative Party conference, Ben Osborn, managing director of Pfizer UK, said the company knows “exactly the medicines that will be required if we see the peak continue to increase in wave two”. 

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The Royal Pharmaceutical Society has made this article free to access in order to help healthcare professionals stay informed about an issue of national importance.

To learn more about coronavirus, please visit: https://www.rpharms.com/resources/pharmacy-guides/wuhan-novel-coronavirus

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Pfizer has “a long history of delivering during crisis situations”, a spokesperson for the company said

Drug manufacturer Pfizer has “tripled” its production of ventilation drugs for UK NHS patients over the past six months, Ben Osborn, managing director of Pfizer UK, has said.

Speaking at the Conservative Party conference, which is being held online only, on 4 October 2020, Osborn said the company had developed “deep experience” from the first wave of the COVID-19 pandemic earlier in 2020.

“We know exactly the medicines that will be required if we see the peak continue to increase in wave two,” Osborn told the conference. ”We’ve already started to scale up manufacturing in regard to that around the world, and we know what we would need here in the UK.”

A spokesperson for Pfizer UK confirmed that Osborn was referring to an increase in production of multiple drugs. The spokesperson added that the company has “a long history of delivering during crisis situations, from our mass production of penicillin in WWII [World War Two] to our tripling of production of intubation medications to meet the demands of hospitals during the first wave of the current pandemic”.

As of 4 October 2020, there were 368 patients in ventilator beds in the UK.

In April 2020, the government warned that some intubation drugs would run out “over the coming days”.

In a supply disruption alert issued on 16 April 2020, the Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC) said there were “limited supplies” of all strengths of the neuromuscular blocking agents atracurium and cisatracurium, owing to a “recent increase in demand”, with trusts asked to switch to using rocuronium or pancuronium when supplies depleted.

Osborn was speaking during a Conservative Party conference session on ‘Public health — developing a vaccine for COVID-19’, during which he was joined by panellists including health minister Lord Bethell and Hugo Fry, vice-president of the Association of the British Pharmaceutical Industry.

On the subject of vaccines, Osborn said he believed “we will need multiple vaccines to be successful in clinical trials”. But he added that to ensure that those who need the vaccine most receive one, Pfizer — which has partnered with BioNTech to research COVID-19 vaccines — was “essentially only working with the NHS in the UK” and that “as Lord Bethell has said, it will be available free of charge on the NHS”.

Citation: The Pharmaceutical Journal DOI: 10.1211/PJ.2020.20208420

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