EU stockpiles drugs and considers joint procurement to alleviate medicine shortage

The European Commission (EC) has begun stockpiling drugs and organising joint procurement of pharmaceutical supplies following a Europe-wide medicines shortage.

A surge in demand for drugs across the European Union has pushed the European Medicines Agency to register shortages across drugs including penicillin and paracetamol. 

In response, the EC has started stockpiling drugs, obliging manufacturers to guarantee supplies, and organising joint procurements. Regulatory reform is also in the pipeline.

A spokesperson for the EC told Supply Management the shortage of medicines was a global issue. They said: “The root causes of shortages of medicines are complex and related to many factors such as production capacity issues and unexpected increases in demand.

“Shortages of medicines have become a systemic challenge with numerous vulnerabilities, including the lack of geographical diversification for certain products, regulatory complexity, or public procurement practices.

“The Commission will address these aspects in the upcoming reform, notably by stronger obligations for supply, earlier notification of shortages and withdrawals and enhanced transparency of stocks.”

The spokesperson added: “The Commission can also offer support from its Health Emergency and Response Authority from a crisis management perspective, for instance by joint procurements of countermeasures or matchmaking events. The Commission also works on a more systemic industrial policy/strategic autonomy policy to improve security of supply of medicines to EU patients.”

The EU suffered from slow progress on its vaccine rollout, with its joint procurement being criticised despite the EC saying it would simplify negotiation processes. The European Court of Auditors said this was because the EU’s first phase of Covid vaccine procurement failed to include clauses around ability to fulfil supply.

Thanos Plevris, health minister for Greece, said the drug shortage was affecting all EU countries, the UK and the US, making drugs more expensive and reducing availability in hospitals. Plevris said the shortage had been caused by a lack of raw materials.

Greece banned the export of drugs earlier this month, after pharmaceutical companies were found to be importing drugs into the country at low prices before exporting them again with considerable mark-ups.

France has banned the sale of online paracetamol, known as Doliprane, to ensure the availability of stock in shops.

The UK has enacted multiple Serious Shortage Protocols, allowing pharmacies to substitute prescriptions of drugs in high demand and low supply with alternatives under less pressure.

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