Pfizer confirms Puerto Rico plants damaged by hurricane Maria

By Gareth Macdonald

- Last updated on GMT

Gettyimages/Sergio Lacueva
Gettyimages/Sergio Lacueva

Related tags Puerto rico Food and drug administration Manufacturing

Communication difficulties are hampering drug industry efforts to assess damage to manufacturing operations caused by the hurricane that struck Puerto Rico last week.

Hurricane Maria hit Puerto Rico last Wednesday, cutting off power to the Caribbean island and leaving millions of people with only limited access to food and water​.

The storm also damaged drug manufacturing plants according to US FDA commissioner Scott Gottleib, who said​ "The FDA is currently working closely with pharmaceutical and device companies with manufacturing sites in Puerto Rico to prevent shortages of medically necessary drugs and devices.​"

A Pfizer spokeswoman confirmed the firm had been impacted by the hurricane. She told us “We have completed preliminary assessment of our manufacturing sites in Puerto Rico. Two of the three sites received minimal damage. One site has experienced minimal to moderate damage to parts of the facility and we are working to repair the facilities as soon as possible

She added that: “We are slowly making contact with our colleagues on this island. To date it has been difficult to confirm all their status with no electricity on the island and minimal cell phone coverage.”

Despite the damage, Pfizer is confident it can avoid interruptions to product supplies. The spokeswoman told us “We have healthy supply of finished goods available for patients and do not see a risk to patient supply at this point​.”

Bristol Myers-Squibb (B-MS) has three facilities in Puerto Rico. A spokesman told us two of the facilities escaped damage and that the firm is assessing the third.

"The island of Puerto Rico has sustained significant damage, and our primary concern is with our employees, their families and the citizens of Puerto Rico.  We are executing contingency plans that we believe mitigates product supply risk as we assess the situation on the island and work to bring our operations back online. We are contacting employees to provide support in their recovery from Hurricane Maria while the Bristol-Myers Squibb Foundation is responding with a $250,000 cash donation to support emergency relief efforts​."

Johnson & Johnson's (J&J) Puerto Rico operations appear to have suffered less impact.

Spokeswoman Natália Salomão told us “Our preliminary assessment is that our physical facilities fared well given the magnitude of the storm.  We are partnering with local and federal authorities to monitor the state of the infrastructure.

While we helped our employees and campuses prepare, we continue to work with customers and our emergency aid partners to restock products and relief supplies that have been in heavy demand.​” 

Salomão also told us “Prior to the storm, we took steps to adjust our raw material and product supply flow to account for potential interruptions, and we will continue to assess the situation​.”

Ongoing assessment

Other drug firms with operations on Puerto Rico are still assessing the damage. GSK told us “We do not have enough information at this time to comment​” but promised to provide an update later this week.

Similarly, Eli Lilly and Amgen told Reuters they are both still assessing the situation.

Swiss drug manufacturer Novartis does not have manufacturing operations in Puerto Rico, however, it does ship drugs to the island.

A spokeswoman told us “The safety of our associates is paramount and we are working to confirm all our people are accounted for and to provide them with assistance and support.

She added: “We are working closely with our partners, distributors and the government in Puerto Rico to maintain business and supply continuity to the extent feasible.

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