From The Editor | March 13, 2020

Don't Spread The Wrong Message: COVID-19 And Respect For CMOs


By Louis Garguilo, Chief Editor, Outsourced Pharma


Hundreds of happy and hungry contract development and manufacturing professionals would have been gathered in celebration in midtown Manhattan.

They’d include CEOs, supply-chain professionals of all estimations, and a collection of engineers, scientists and business development managers representing CDMOs from China, Europe, India, and the U.S.

Happy for the opportunity to celebrate what they’d accomplished for their biopharma customers last year. And yes, because the beverages are of the adult kind and in ample supply.

Hungry not because there isn’t also a supply of great food, but for something much deeper: Respect.

That respect is displayed as individual awards, but manifest throughout the global outsourcing industry. A collective recognition of the services provided to practically every virtual drug developer, biotech start-up, specialty and big pharma organization in existence.

But this year, this scene of celebration is cancelled. By an antithetical event circling the globe. Antithetical, and ironic convergence.

The first was to be a celebration for safety, reliably, and productively keeping drug development and manufacturing supply chains running. The second is a threat to shut those supply chains down.

One is in the service of patients around the world. The other is creating more patients.

Say It With Awards … And A Song

The annual Life Science Leader CMO Leadership Awards Ceremony was to unfold in a beautiful venue well into the evening of March 25th.

As master of ceremony, I bound up the stairs as house lights dim over the audience and spotlights illuminate the stage.

We’ve selected the signature Aretha Franklin song, “Respect,” to blare through the sound system.

But the song plays on well after I’ve reached the podium. I pretend – some hand gestures and facial expressions – to attempt to get the music turned down so I can begin.

After a fading final spelling by the “Queen of Soul” of  “R-E-S-P-E-C-T,” I say into the mike, arms wide: “Welcome everyone … And apparently I’m Aretha Franklin.”

Okay, so maybe not so amusing on paper.

But the audience will laugh. They are jovial, anticipating the all-too-rare but well-deserved accolades they are about to receive. This is the night they get their respect.

It materializes as crystalline-engraved awards. Each in specific recognition of the top CMOs in categories such as capabilities and expertise, quality and reliability.

There’s also recognition for demonstrating throughout the past year the “individual attributes” biopharma customers judge as most vital in a CMO, things like accessibility to management, innovation, on-time delivery, and strength of science.

The awards derive their ultimate meaning by the fact the winners are determined solely by their biotech and pharma customers. Customer respect. The best kind.   

So yes, I’d say the gathered would laugh at my opening.

Just like they have in years past. And like they will next year.

But here’s a second turn of irony: This new coronavirus may have provided us an opportunity of sorts.

Spread The Right Message

The epidemic events of the past months have brought our contract development and manufacturing industry a level of public recognition beyond anything experienced before.

But we will have to speak up publically to ensure that coronavirus-comingled recognition does not alter the respect our annual CMO rewards try to bestow.

Wound tightly to the human suffering is the narrative of how U.S. (and global) drug supply chains are dangerously reliant on China. “Why are we in this situation?” the public (at last) asks.

Folks in the U.S. now wake up to articles in their newspapers and media that start off, as this one did in the Wall Street Journal: “Much of the contents of your medicine cabinet can be traced back to Chinese ingredients processed into pills in India.”

And, parenthetically, those ingredients and pills for the most part are made by CMOs.

Thus our challenge: Spread word of the good works, necessity, and inevitability of our contract development and manufacturing industry.

And, if need be, lay the blame for concentrated supply lines elsewhere.  

We need to be clear in explanation: The WSJ and others are referring to the low-cost, common generics on the shelves of your drug stores, and the common drugs vital to the daily operations of hospitals taking care of patients.

CMOs are employed to keep those costs down. They do it well. They are part of the solution.

The problem lies here: An unbalanced approach within our healthcare system that forces U.S. patients to low-cost – made in China – generics has sent the pharma industry and their CMOs packing to places like Wuhan, China.

I’ve pursued this line of thinking previously. Today’s coronavirus outbreak manifests the argument that forcing supply chains offshore and pushing patients to cheaper drugs is dangerous to both sides of the equation.

Perhaps readers will join in a more public questioning of our predicament. At Outsourced Pharma, we’ll do as much in subsequent editorial.

Finally, The Reveal

For me, the above discussion originates in December of 2014, when we published an editorial in these pages titled Biopharma Outsourcing Shall Be Revealed.

Here’s a quote:

“Pharmaceutical and biotechnology (biopharma) outsourcing is an unknown quantity to the global healthcare consumer. This will change and the biopharma industry ought to get in front of it.

“On the horizon is a broadening public awareness of the large and intensifying role outsourcing plays in the discovery, development and manufacture of generic and innovative drugs. Whether this awareness comes with a negative bias—such as in media reporting on quality issues at global generics manufacturers or pharmaceutical job cuts made possible in part by outsourcing—or more positively through an understanding of the value created for the consumer by sponsor-provider relationships, is in the balance.”

And so that point in time to make our case has come. Let’s respect that. 


* Listen to a podcast with Chief Editor Louis Garguilo. In 20 minutes he covers his four recent editorials on coronavirus, China, CMOs and cheaper drugs, and describes how these subjects are coalescing to influence our outsourcing industry.

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