Ukraine pharma CEO urges the industry to rally behind his country on 3 fronts

Many biopharma companies swiftly condemned the invasion of Ukraine last month, donating cash and medicine amid pledges to limit business operations in Russia.

But the helmsman of a Ukrainian company that supplies key chemicals to drugmakers says the aid shouldn't stop there.

The life sciences sector ought to levy its support for Ukraine on three fronts, Andrey Tolmachov, founder and CEO of Enamine, said in a call to action issued Saturday. First, drugmakers should push NATO to close the skies over the country as Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelensky has been requesting, and as NATO has refused to do.

Second, the industry needs to sever all ties with Russia—an opinion some key biotech leaders share. And finally, companies should continue making donations of money and drugs to Ukraine, the CEO said.

Enamine helps supply more than 70% of the world’s stock of chemical building blocks and reagents, according to Tolmachov. Together with fellow Ukrainian companies Life Chemicals and Otava Chemicals, Enamine is one of the major contributors to the world’s supply of chemical screening compounds, too, with more than 50% of the molecules coming from Ukraine, the CEO added.

But as Russia “wages a cruel war in our country,” the company’s facilities, the potential of its chemists and its knowledge and experience are “under threat to be destroyed,” Tolmachov said.

The war is already affecting local clinical trials, sending ripples across the industry. On Wednesday, Ascendis Pharma said the conflict could scupper the readout for a phase 3 study of an adult growth hormone deficiency treatment, while Tricidia on Thursday pushed a readout for a late-stage chronic kidney disease prospect from the third to the fourth quarter. Fifteen percent of the Tricidia trial's patients were based in Ukraine, the company said. 

While the country has already received financial support, weapons and pharmaceuticals from abroad, “it is not enough,” Tolmachov said, arguing that Western countries are “afraid of direct conflict with Russia or at least to close the sky for Russian planes and missiles.”

He urged drugmakers to leverage government contacts and connections to convince NATO to establish a no-fly zone over Ukraine, which could save thousands of lives, preserve infrastructure and potentially stop the Russian invasion, Tolmachov said. NATO has been reluctant to do so because enforcing a no-fly zone could draw the alliance into the war.

The industry must also commit to “the entire isolation of Russia,” the CEO said.

“Nowadays we see real solidarity of the whole world to cancel or stop any economic, cultural, technological, financial connections with Russia and we urge the same from the drug discovery community,” the CEO said. All projects, relationships and collaborations with Russian companies and organizations should be halted until the end of the war. “The sooner this country is totally isolated, the sooner the war will end,” Tolmachov added.

And Tolmachov isn't alone in calling on biopharma to isolate Russia.

Biotech leaders wrote in a recent letter that the industry’s “immediate and complete economic disengagement” from Russia is paramount. Chief executives at Nkarta, BioMarin, Rubius, atai Life Sciences, Blueprint Medicines, Ovid, Global Blood Therapeutics and dozens of others signed the letter, pledging to cease investments in Russian companies and new investments within the country’s borders, among other commitments. 

Drugmakers big and small have rallied around the Ukrainian cause in recent days. AstraZeneca, Bristol Myers Squibb, Pfizer and Novo Nordisk have all donated money, while Roche and Sanofi are working to supply the country with essential medicines.