Médicins Avec Frontières?

The EU has taken a very tough position over the supply of vaccines – a very ‘nationalistic’ Médicament Avec Frontières view of the world – with its threats to prevent cross-border supply.

This challenges not only the commercial and contractual independence of multi-national pharmaceutical companies, but also, in fact, the very rationale behind globalisation in international trade.

For vaccines, the idea of having manufacturing based in country X when you need supply in country Y runs counter to a rigid ‘nationalistic’ mindset. Local demand is best met by local supply. Give it a name – self-sufficiency!

OK, I know that the EU is a collection of states, but the weakness that this latest pharma/life sciences dispute reveals is simply this: how can a particular country’s government adequately protect the safety of its citizens (arguably a government’s primary concern) unless it ensures a national self-sufficiency in, for example, medical supplies. That goes for the EU too.

This is something that governments (and the EU) no doubt will be reviewing in the years ahead, and so too will big pharma. It is unclear as yet how this latest confrontation will play out, but the very fact that the drama has occurred will have repercussions for the sector.

Another interesting aspect of the race for a vaccine to combat Covid-19 has been high-lighted by the French response to the apparent failure of the French company Sanofi, as well as of the Pasteur Institute, to come up with viable vaccines in the time-frame achieved by other companies such as Pfizer/Biontech, Astra-Zeneca, and Moderna.

François Bayrou, head of France’s Democratic Movement Party has pointed to the loss of French scientists and executives, naming (blaming and shaming?) Stéphane Bancel, CEO of Moderna, and Pascal Soriot, head of Astra-Zeneca, as being French. It is hard to see how the French (or any other government other than that of China) could stop a brain-drain of scientists/executives – how far can nationalism go in that regard?

Governments will undoubtedly in future be seeking to pursue policies of self-interest in relation to the life science industries to ensure that, as far as is possible:

  1. Bio-medical scientists/executives work in their ‘home’ country
  2. R&D is nurtured in ‘home’-based universities and companies
  3. State and Private Sector co-operation is increased
  4. Adequate ‘home-based’ manufacturing capability and capacity is in place
  5. The regulatory bodies operate at peak efficiency – the MHRA in the UK has outperformed the EMA in the EU

And, never one to pass the chance up to promote Management Forum’s activities – naturally, the implications of the above issues will doubtless feature in its Webinars (Sans Frontières!) over the coming months.

I will return to the theme of globalisation in retreat in a future blog.

Published on Feb 01, 2021 by Neil Thomas