- 3 years ago
7 June 2021
Australia should concentrate on protecting its established medicines manufacturing rather than looking to build new sites, Viatris Country Manager Sylvain Vigneault says.
Viatris makes 35 per cent of its PBS-listed products in Australia at its manufacturing facility in Carole Park, Queensland. A further 32 per cent of product sold locally is made at one of the company’s 49 other manufacturing facilities situated globally, with the remaining 33 per cent made by third party manufacturers.
Vigneault has held meetings with the Department of Health and with the government’s Manufacturing Taskforce, stressing the importance of protecting the local medicines manufacturing industry as a priority rather than moving to invest in new facilities.
“We cannot say enough how important this is,” he said. “We produce three billion solid oral doses in tablets and capsules each year and have 600 employees that work on the Carole Park site.
“For the 10 years before Covid, nobody really cared. They just wanted the cheapest product. It took a situation like Covid for us to notice but now we are getting momentum behind the importance of producing products in Australia.”
Vigneault says while price has been the main driver of generic medicines in Australia to date, purchasing and importing from third-party suppliers has increased the risk of shortages – particularly in the pandemic.
He said while production can be increased to meet a shortage for a locally made product in two months, when the same product is imported from a third party supplier, it can take up to nine months for the new stock to hit pharmacy shelves.
“The pricing we have now in Australia definitely penalises us when it comes to getting access to products from a third party,” he said.
“We’ve shared this with the Department of Health as it is part of the challenge. When you are relying on a third party, you are very exposed to international pricing. There is no doubt that some of the supply challenges we have are because of pricing but to the credit to the department, there is now an appreciation for locally made products.”
Vigneault said Viatris had made a submission and presented it to the manufacturing task force established by the Government.
“The number one priority needs to be that no existing centre is closed down because they are not supported. That’s priority number one.
“We quite urgently in Australia need to make sure that existing manufacturing centres in the industry remain. That should be our focus, not on the new one just yet. We have already lost too much so we must safeguard what we have because it is crucial.”
He says the agility that onshore manufacturing provides “is humungous” but if the price is too low, “there’s nothing that can be done”.
“When you look at how many centres have closed in the last 10 to 15 years, it’s unfortunate. We now realise they are crucial. We should not let it happen anymore.”
In contrast with his fellow GBMA Board member and Arrotex founder Dennis Bastas, who has proposed the Government invest in a new medicines manufacturing facility, Vigneault says Australia should first protect its current manufacturing.
While recognising Viatris’ position was at odds with Arrotex, the pair are in agreement on the benefits offered by local manufacturing and, most likely, also on how government pricing policies have run their course in squeezing the PBS.
New Queensland manufacturing push
The Queensland Government is the latest to boost investment in its medical manufacturing, announcing a Queensland medical research centre would benefit from a $1.84 billion flagship jobs fund.
In a bid to enhance the state’s vaccine manufacturing and development capacity, the Translational Research Institute at Princess Alexandra Hospital will receive $20 million.
“We can make sure they don’t just invent those innovations here, but they can manufacture them too and push them through to clinical trials,” Deputy Premier Steven Miles said on Sunday.
“We can’t wait for the Commonwealth government to deliver that sovereign manufacturing capability, we need to invest in it ourselves.”
Mr Miles said the investment could help Queensland become a national vaccine manufacturing destination – the third state to enter the vaccine push after Victoria and NSW.