Ukraine war: A look into major drug makers pausing operations in Russia

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A slew of drugmakers, including from the US, France, Germany, Switzerland, and the UK have halted exports of non-essential medicines to Russia, in the wake of its invasion into Ukraine, while continuing supply of critical medicines.

Eli Lilly has said it will be stopping the exporting of medicines such as Cialis, a treatment for erectile dysfunction, while also suspending all investments, promotional activities and new clinical trials in Russia, the Financial Times reported.

However, the US drugmaker stated it would continue to supply treatments for life-threatening diseases such as cancer and diabetes. Any profits generated by sales of essential medicines such as insulin or cancer drugs would be donated to humanitarian relief efforts, said Lilly.

“For nearly 150 years, Lilly has worked to ensure patients have access to the medicines they need, no matter where they may live,” it said in a statement. “Our Russian operations are now only focused on ensuring people suffering from diseases like cancer and diabetes continue to get the Lilly medicines they need.”

The announcement comes as other drugmakers have also distanced themselves from Russia.

Johnson & Johnson has said it will provide humanitarian support for refugees in the border countries, and also donate hygiene kits, health packets and medical supplies. While it is committed to providing essential health products to Russia, it is ceasing new enrollments in Ukraine, Russia and Belarus.

Pfizer has committed to donate any profits from its Russian operations to direct humanitarian support for the Ukrainian people.

Pfizer CEO Albert Bourla during an interview with Face the Nation on CBS said that going forward, the company is “clearly not planning to invest in Russia”.

However, as medicines are typically exempt from trade restrictions, it will continue to export essential medicines like for cancer treatment, he added.

Another US drug major Merck has “paused clinical trial enrollment” at new sites in both Ukraine and Russia. Drugmaker AbbVie, known for wrinkle treatment Botox, has also temporarily suspended operations for all its aesthetics products in the country.

French drug major Sanofi has decided to suspend “all of advertising and media activities in Russia”, as well as “any new spending not related to the supply of our essential medicines and vaccines.”

Germany’s Bayer and Abbott Laboratories have pulled back from non-essential spending in Russia, while maintaining a supply of essential medicines to Russia.

Swiss drugmaker Novartis has said it is suspending investments in Russia and stopping all commercial marketing in Russia. It has also committed towards humanitarian effort in Ukraine and will make an initial donation of $3 million.

UK pharma major GlaxoSmithKline also said its stopped advertisements in Russia, nor starting any new clinical operations, and will also not enter into any contracts that directly support the Russian administration or military. But, it will continue to supply its products in Russia.

Following Russia’s invasion into Ukraine on February 24, the European Union along with the US and other western nations imposed a slew of sanctions on Russia in the sectors such as finance, energy, transport, technology, visa policy as well in space cooperation.

Only the export of medicines, the materials necessary for making them and medical equipment have been excluded from tough sanctions imposed on Russia. This has meant pharmaceuticals and healthcare are among the only industries still doing substantial business in Russia.

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