Drugmakers, gov't units at full throttle to meet demand

An employee supervises packaging at a drug firm's production unit in Shenyang, Liaoning province, on Jan 12, 2023. (Photo by ZHANG WENKUI/FOR CHINA DAILY)

Integrated efforts seen boosting output and supply of key COVID medicines

With the nation constantly optimizing COVID-19 prevention measures, drugmakers in China are ramping up production and distribution to help in the recovery from COVID impacts as quickly as possible to answer the government's call to ensure anti-epidemic medical supplies amid soaring demand.

Experts and business leaders said such efforts have played a key role in maintaining steady socioeconomic development and demonstrate China's unparalleled capabilities in manufacturing, which is characterized by its huge scale, completeness and high efficiency of related industrial and supply chains.

Since the optimization of COVID-19 measures in China, soaring demand for medicines treating related symptoms like fevers and coughing has prompted more than 200 relevant subsidiary pharmaceutical companies of China National Pharmaceutical Group Co Ltd, or Sinopharm, to operate in full swing to triple the capacity of making key medicines.

In less than a month, they produced more than 228 million packs of various anti-coronavirus drugs, including 19.03 million packs of fever, cough and antibiotic medicines like ibuprofen, acetaminophen and cefixime.

Wang Jiangping, vice-minister of industry and information technology, said in late December that the domestic daily production capacity and production volume of ibuprofen and paracetamol rose to 202 million tablets and 190 million tablets, respectively.

The daily production capacity and production volume of the two drugs were four times higher compared with levels seen in early December, Wang said.

"China has a complete industrial chain and a large-scale pharmaceutical industry. It is not a question of whether China can produce drugs like ibuprofen but if it can produce them in a highly efficient manner even when facing production disruptions and the demand surge due to the epidemic," said Bai Ming, deputy director of international market research at the Chinese Academy of International Trade and Economic Cooperation in Beijing.

"As long as the parties concerned are well coordinated, China's industrial and supply chain advantages will be unleashed to raise production efficiency and better meet market demand," he said.

Alan Chen, general manager of Beaufour-Ipsen (Tianjin) Pharmaceutical Co, said thanks to the help and coordination from local governments, the company can maintain high-level capacity to meet soaring demand for its flagship anti-diarrheal medicine during the latest COVID-related buying spree.

The company has adjusted production lines to optimize efficiency and employees work in three shifts to ensure around-the-clock production. Its current output of anti-diarrheal medicine has risen to around 10,000 packs a day, up from 7,000 packs per day in the past.

"The recent demand spike was a surprise. We usually keep an additional stockpile of about one to two months' sales volume for emergency use and that stockpile ran out in just two weeks," Chen said.

"Thanks to joint efforts from everyone, we have managed to meet demand while avoiding pushing our employees to exhaustion," he added.

He also spoke highly of China's efficient pharmaceutical retail and distribution channels.

"In China, there are hundreds of thousands of pharmacies selling our products, which helps to ensure stable supplies of our medicines to patients," he said.

Sinopharm said it distributed 274 million packs of fever, cough, antiviral and antibiotic medicines nationwide in December, leveraging on its 614 medical logistics hubs across the country.

The company also produced 59.46 million packs of Chinese patented medicine for COVID-19 treatment, 42.58 million packs of Chinese patented preventatives, 90 million packs of Chinese medicine in granule form for COVID-19 prevention, and 17.50 million bags of prepared traditional Chinese medicine tablets in December.