While some global pharma companies continue to manufacture and sell products in Russia, several large pharma companies said they are scaling back their business there.
As the war between Russia and Ukraine enters its fourth week, major pharmaceutical companies have stepped up to support humanitarian efforts in Ukraine by making multimillion dollar donations. Yet there is mixed response from these companies about continuing their business with Russia.
Hundreds of companies, including airlines, banks, and tech giants, exited Russia during the past few weeks. President Biden has imposed numerous sanctions on Russia over the invasion of Ukraine, but drugmakers, as well as medical device manufacturers and healthcare companies have been exempted from these sanctions so far. Global drug companies have thus been reluctant to cease operations in Russia, so they continue to manufacture and sell their products there. But there are some that have scaled back their business.
American biopharma company AbbVie has suspended its aesthetic products operations in Russia and paused its new clinical trials there. Meanwhile, Pfizer, Bayer, and Sanofi, among others, are holding off on new investments or development. All three companies recently provided updates on their positions.
Drugmakers that continue operating in Russia include Abbott Laboratories and Johnson & Johnson (J&J), which have corporate offices in Moscow, Novosibirsk, St. Petersburg, and Yekaterinburg. The reason is twofold: Russians need access to medicines and medical equipment and international humanitarian law requires such companies to keep their supply chains open.
Abbott manufactures and sells medicine in Russia for oncology services and liver health, among others. Abbott condemned the war and violence in Ukraine and donated $2 million to humanitarian efforts. Yet "as a healthcare company, we have an important purpose, which is why at this time we continue to serve people in all countries in which we operate who depend on us for essential products, some life-sustaining," Scott Stoffel, divisional vice president at Abbott, told Kaiser Health News (KHN).
J&J donated $5 million to help provide humanitarian support for refugees in the border countries. The company also said it remains "committed to providing essential health products to those in need in Ukraine, Russia and the region, in compliance with current sanctions and while adapting to the rapidly changing situation on the ground."
But drugmakers saying that they had to continue manufacturing drugs in Russia for humanitarian reasons were "being misguided at best, cynical in the medium case, and outright deplorably misleading and deceptive," Jeffrey Sonnenfeld, a professor at the Yale School of Management, also told KHN.
Abbott and J&J have more recently joined a growing body of companies that are buying time.
More response from pharma
Additional companies that have issued statements on the crisis in Ukraine include Baxter and Novartis.
The Baxter International Foundation said in a statement that it is also "making financial grants to support activities of Americares, International Medical Corps, Project HOPE and USA for UNHCR [UN Refugee Agency] who are providing critical supplies and health services in the region."
Novartis made an initial donation of $3 million to support the efforts of three humanitarian organizations: the International Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement, Save the Children, and the International Rescue Committee. "Novartis experts are working diligently to ensure continued supply of our medicines in Ukraine, where the health of patients who depend on these medicines is our priority," the company said in a statement.
"We are expanding our humanitarian efforts in Ukraine by donating our inventory of essential medicines directly within the country, including much-needed antibiotics and painkillers from the Sandoz portfolio, for use in Ukrainian medical facilities," Novartis added. The company further noted that it is also "working with the surrounding countries to supply medicines into Ukraine from outside of the country."
Swiss drugmaker Roche also made a donation to the Ukraine of 150,000 packages of its Rocephin, an antibiotic on the World Health Organization's list of essential medicines for treating the symptoms of several kinds of bacterial infections.
"We are ensuring that our critical medicines and diagnostics reach the people who need them both in Ukraine and other countries impacted by the crisis," Roche said in a statement. "We are making every effort to ensure continued supply to Ukraine, Russia and Belarus within the scope of the available possibilities." The company has also been working to prevent disruptions in treatment access for Ukrainian patients enrolled in ongoing clinical trials.
The humanitarian crisis has affected hundreds of clinical trials ongoing for major pharma companies.
American multinational pharmaceutical and biotechnology corporation, Pfizer; German multinational pharmaceutical and life sciences company, Bayer AG; and French multinational healthcare company, Sanofi S.A., among others, have made clear they are scaling back their business in Russia.
Pfizer provided $1 million in humanitarian grants for Ukraine. Sanofi has donated more than $5 million, while Bayer established a disaster relief fund valued at more than $3 million.
Still, Pfizer President Albert Bourla said the company wasn't going to make additional investments in Russia. Bayer also recently said it was suspending all nonessential spending in Russia and Belarus, though it intends to continue supplying essential, lifesaving products. Sanofi made similar decisions.
"We will no longer initiate new clinical trials in Russia and will stop recruiting new patients into our ongoing trials in the country," said Pfizer.
"As the war in Ukraine evolves, we've made the decision to suspend with immediate effect all of our advertising and media activities in Russia, and to suspend any new spending not related to the supply of our essential medicines and vaccines," said Sanofi.
American drugmaker Eli Lilly announced its plans to shift its business focus in Russia, also. This came after Lilly donated $7.5 million of its insulin to Project HOPE on March 3.
"We also have suspended all investments, promotional activities, and new clinical trials in Russia, as well as the exportation of non-essential medicines to that country," Lilly said. "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 company added that if it were to generate profits from its sales in Russia, it intends to "donate them to organizations dedicated to humanitarian relief."
UK-based GlaxoSmithKline is yet another pharma company that has suspended advertising and new clinical trials in Russia, a list compiled by Yale School of Management notes. AstraZeneca, however, is digging in its heels as the only one in pharma defying demands for exiting or reducing activities in Russia.
“We are expanding our humanitarian efforts in Ukraine by donating our inventory of essential medicines directly within the country, including much-needed antibiotics and painkillers from the Sandoz portfolio, for use in Ukrainian medical facilities.”
Ana Mulero is a contributing writer for HealthLeaders, an HCPro brand.
President Biden has imposed numerous sanctions on Russia over the invasion of Ukraine, but drugmakers, medical device manufacturers and healthcare companies have been exempted.
Global drug companies have thus been reluctant to cease operations in Russia, so they continue to manufacture and sell their products there. But there are some that have scaled back their business.