Hurricane Maria shutters much of Puerto Rico's pharma manufacturing

Damage in the wake of Hurricane Maria has shuttered pharma manufacturing in Puerto Rico.

As Puerto Rico struggles to get its footing in the wake of the devastation left by Hurricane Maria last week, the pharmaceutical manufacturing industry is scrambling to assess damage to plants and the condition of their employees.

Although some facilities are operating with backup power, many of the 50 pharmaceutical plants in Puerto Rico are essentially being idled for the time being as employees dig out of the devastation, USA Today reported. It’s not expected that power to the island will be restored for up to six months, and loss of production could lead to some short-term drug shortages.

The FDA, in an email, told the newspaper that it was working closely with pharmaceutical companies to prevent shortages of drug products.

Companies emphasized that assuring the safety of their employees and helping them was their top priority, even as they assess damage to plants and determine what the impact might be on supplies. Several said through supply chain management they would be able to avoid shortages of any medication.

"The company's preliminary assessment is that the critical manufacturing areas in our facility in Juncos, Puerto Rico, have not been significantly impacted by this storm," Esteban Santos, executive vice president of operations at Amgen, said in a statement.

The company said it has hundreds of staff on site and that its facility is operating on backup generators. It said that capacity at other sites will cover supply needs.  

An AbbVie facility is also "running on independent power generation unit and are intact and operational, with teams working diligently to restore normal operations." The company said it does not expect any supply disruptions as result.

In an email to FiercePharma, Merck spokeswoman Claire Gillespie said the company is still evaluating the impact of the hurricane on its operations.

The lack of power and communications across the island was making it difficult for companies to contact employees

“AbbVie is in the process of confirming the safety of our colleagues and their families in Puerto Rico and the Caribbean,” the company said in a statement. “This effort remains ongoing, as power outages have impacted communications across the island."

Pharmaceuticals make up 72% of Puerto Rico's 2016 exports, which are valued at $14.5 billion, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. Puerto Rico represents 25% of total U.S. pharmaceutical exports.

Eli Lilly and AstraZeneca are among other large pharmaceutical companies with operations in Puerto Rico.