Without power, Puerto Rico's drug manufacturing left battered by Maria
- Hurricane Maria dealt a major blow to Puerto Rico's infrastructure, knocking out much of its electrical grid and imperiling access to basic supplies for citizens of the U.S. territory.
- Damage from the storm also halted operations for several pharma companies that manufacture drug products on the island, raising the risk of shortages and cuts to supply of needed medicines.
- Amgen Inc., which employs about 2,000 staff in Puerto Rico, said Monday that company supplies would be sufficient to meet patient demand. Eli Lilly & Co., another larger employer on the island, sent an emergency shipment of nearly 2,400 insulin vials and pens after receiving a request from the Puerto Rican Department of Health.
Already hit by Hurricane Irma, Puerto Rico was further battered by Hurricane Maria's strong winds and rain, which severely damaged the island's power grid. Satellite imagery taken before and after Maria's landfall illustrate the wide extent of the blackouts, with most of Puerto Rico in the dark outside of the capital of San Juan.
Even with federal assistance, it may take months to restore power throughout the island — leaving pharmaceutical manufacturers reliant on back-up generator power.
Amgen said generators were currently powering its site in Juncos and is working to restore normal operations at the facility, which is responsible for a substantial majority of Amgen's commercial manufacturing activities.
Similarly, AbbVie said its facilities are running on independent power generation.
Both companies emphasized their redundant supply and manufacturing capacity, which should mitigate any potential impact to patients.
"We expect to maintain our long-term track record of reliably supplying our patients with the medicines they need," said Esteban Santos, head of Operations at Amgen in a statement.
Prior to the storm, the Food and Drug Administration worked with drugmakers to coordinate with companies in order to avoid shortages of medical products.
"Since Friday, we have undertaken swift and extensive efforts to prevent or limit the loss or shortage of multiple drugs critical to American patients due to the challenges related to refrigeration, storage and transportation," agency head Scott Gottlieb said in a release Monday.
Currently, the ports of Guayanilla, Salina and Tallaboa on the south coast of Puerto Rico are fully open, while the much larger port of San Juan remains open with restrictions.
Nearly 700 personnel from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers are active in Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands, taking stock of the damage to power systems and installing generators.
Another roughly 2,500 members of the U.S. National Guard are on the ground in the region, although their efforts are focused on moving food and water to those who need it and assisting local law enforcement, according to a Sept. 25 statement from the Federal Emergency Management Agency.
While power will be slowly restored over time, pharmaceutical manufacturers may continue to feel the impact of the storm for some time as local employees deal with the aftereffects of the storm's damage.
- Amgen Inc. Press release
- Eli Lilly & Co. Statement
- USA Today Hurricane Maria halts crucial drug manufacturing in Puerto Rico, may spur shortages
Follow Ned Pagliarulo on Twitter