Since last Friday, I’m sure almost all of us have been watching as Japan deals with the horrific aftermath of the earthquake and tsunami. I was fortunate enough to be in Japan this time last year. I think it’s a wonderful country and it’s heartbreaking to see what’s happening to the Japanese people now. Given the devastation to human lives — 6539 confirmed dead and more than 87000 buildings damaged, according to Reuters — the financial implications seem much less dire to me. However, this is the pharm tech blog so I think it’s a good idea to leave the human losses to other media sources and to concentrate on the effects the disaster has had on the pharmaceutical industry.
Pharma has been quick off the mark to offer both financial and medical aid. Here are some of the donations that have been made by Japanese pharma companies:
- Daiichi Sankyo has donated 100 million JPY (Japanese yen; approximately $1.2 million) and implemented a “Matching Gifts” program for employee donations.
- Dainippon has donated 100 million JPY, as well as hand disinfectant products, and antiepileptics in response to a request from the Japan Epilepsy Society.
- Eisai has donated 200 million JPY ($2.4 million) and established an independent crisis center in the Tohoku region headed by its deputy president.
- Takeda has donated 300 million JPY ($3.7 million), as well as pharmaceutical products.
International pharma companies have also pledged support and it’s great to see so many foreign entities willing to help the Japanese people at this time. Of course, a number of global pharma companies fully understand the consequences of the earthquake because they have been directly affected. Boehringer Ingelheim, for instance, said in a tweet that they have suffered huge damages at one plant in Fukushima, although all Japanese employees have been reported as being safe. GSK, via a release on the Association of Corporate Contributions Professionals, also explained that it had 174 employees in the Tohoku region, although all of these have been reported as being safe. Reuters also reported that production at a GSK plant in Japan had been suspended for a few days following the earthquake.
Potassium iodide panic
The ongoing nuclear crisis in Japan has also impacted the US pharma sector or, more specifically, pharma companies involved in the production of OTC potassium iodide, which can help protect the thyroid from radioactive iodine. Indeed, the situation in Japan has actually sparked an irrational panic-buy of potassium iodide in the US. Fleming Pharmaceuticals described the situation as “insanity” and it is rapidly running out of potassium iodide. “The scope of the issue goes beyond Japan,” Fleming Pharmaceuticals president Phill Dritsas explained in a release. “Some Americans on the West Coast are fearful that the radiation from Japan could drift to our shores, although that is not a real threat according to authorities.”
Earlier this week, a blog was posted by my colleague, Julian Upton, on Pharm. Exec. about the pharma industry’s reaction to the earthquake. Julian also spoke about the situation regarding potassium iodide and I agree with his view:
“What use potassium iodide does have, however, would be far better employed on the ground in Japan than in the suburbs of California. Hopefully, that misplaced hysteria will soon blow over and all global healthcare efforts can properly focus on joining Big Pharma and helping to manage the crisis.”