Bristol severs Russian ties as Novartis resurrects Ukraine business following safety review

While many major pharmaceutical outfits have scaled back or adjusted operations in Russia amid the country’s ongoing war in Ukraine, Bristol Myers Squibb has gone an extra step and pulled the plug completely, the company confirmed this week.

BMS is handing over its Russian commercial operations to its distribution partner Swixx Healthcare, previously known as Amicus, a Bristol spokesperson said over email Wednesday. BMS believes the process, which kicked off May 18, should help safeguard access to its marketed drugs in Russia.

The company also flagged “increased logistical challenges” in the region that have hampered its ability to care for patients in clinical trials.

“As a result, we have made the difficult decision to close Bristol Myers Squibb-sponsored studies in Russia by the end of June 2022,” the spokesperson explained. The company says it will do everything it can to support patients as clinical trials close out.

Bristol is the first Big Pharma to leave Russia, The Pharma Letter reported this week.

Earlier this year, amid a mass exodus of businesses from Russia, pharmaceutical companies found themselves at a tricky humanitarian crossroads. On the one hand, many pharma majors condemned Russia’s invasion and sought to comply with the sanctions imposed on the aggressor nation. At the same time, however, many of those same companies flagged humanistic obligations to supply Russian patients with critical meds.

BMS, for its part, told Endpoints News in March that it had suspended new patient recruitment and clinical trial site activations in Ukraine, Belarus and Russia. “We have also suspended new clinical trial activations in those countries,” the company said at the time.

It told the news outlet it had 160 employees in Russia, adding that BMS didn’t have any manufacturing facilities or R&D centers in the country.

Clinical trials aside, BMS is providing cash donations to Ukraine on several fronts. BMS and the Bristol Myers Squibb Foundation have donated more than $1 million total to date, according to the European Federation of Pharmaceutical Industries and Associations, which keeps a running tally of drugmakers’ response to the war.

Meanwhile, the business transfer isn’t entirely unprecedented for Swixx, which entered Russia in October 2019 when it took over Alexion’s commercial operations in the country, Swixx says on its website. At the same time, Swixx unveiled its first wholly owned Russian subsidiary, Swixx Russia.

AstraZeneca bought out Alexion for $39 billion last summer.

Elsewhere, as the war rages on, some companies are plotting their Ukrainian return. After studying "current safety protocols," Novartis said it's ready to "resume business operations remotely to help the war-torn country restore some basic critical business processes."

The Swiss drugmaker added that it will continue to put the safety and security of its employees first, with plans to “constantly review the situation and our business operations in Ukraine.”