Pfizer, Glaxo, Novo, Novartis plants unfazed by hurricane, resume production; Merck not as lucky

Drugmakers reopened plants in the Carolinas as Hurricane Florence faded. (NOAA)

Drug manufacturers were shaking off the remnants of Hurricane Florence on Monday after the dangers from the “monstrous” storm morphed into hazardous flooding.

GlaxoSmithKline, Pfizer and Novartis and Novo Nordisk all confirmed their manufacturing operations were back online.

GSK said it has reopened and resumed production at its inhaler plant. “Our manufacturing plant in Zebulon, North Carolina, reopened Sunday and our commercial campus in Research Triangle Park reopens today,” Mary Anne Rhyne, director of corporate communications at GSK, said in an email today.

Neither facility endured any serious damage, but the drugmaker was still hearing from employees who were affected directly, she said. “Before the storm, we shared a list of resources with all employees and asked them to stay in touch with their managers so that we could offer support as appropriate.”

RELATED: Pfizer suspending operations at U.S. injectables plant as hurricane approaches

In a two-sentence statement, Pfizer said today it restarted operations at its sterile injectables plants in North Carolina. “Both facilities are operational, and had minimal impact.”

Given existing shortages of sterile injectable drugs in the U.S., there was concern about how the supplies might be affected when the New York drugmaker announced plans to suspend production ahead of the storm.

But the company kept essential emergency, utility and monitoring personnel onsite during the storm, allowing it to restart production quickly. Pfizer, ahead of the storm, also had taken steps to avoid interruptions in drug supplies.  

Like Pfizer, Novo said its plant was “relatively unscathed” and was making diabetes medicines. Novo spokeswoman Marisa Sharkey said the company was urging employees to use caution when getting around, because the “effects of the storm are still lingering in North Carolina.”

Merck & Co., was in a more perilous situation. Spokeswoman Pamela Eisele said Merck facilities in "Wilson, North Carolina and Durham, North Carolina are in areas which are currently affected by flash flooding; however, at this time, no damage is expected to the facilities"

Neither facility is yet operational but cleanup at both had started. Eisele said a facility in Elkton, Virginia, was still operational but the company was keeping watch for flash floods in the area. 

While NOAA's Weather Prediction Center said the storm is now tagged a tropical depression, the death toll climbed to 18. Flooding is now considered the gravest danger, as rivers in the state have turned into dangerous torrents, making travel dangerous in many places.

It is the second time in a year pharma production has been affected by hurricanes after storms wreaked havoc in Puerto Rico last fall. It took months to repair power infrastructure, and keeping fuel flowing to power generators also became an issue.