AstraZeneca Can't Boost a Cancer Drug Stockpile for Brexit

(Bloomberg) -- AstraZeneca Plc is adding to its drug stockpile to ensure supplies for patients after Brexit -- but there’s a worrisome exception.

The drugmaker is already making Zoladex, a drug for cancers of the prostate and breast, at full capacity, Chief Executive Officer Pascal Soriot said in an interview. That means inventory can’t be increased to four months from three, as the company is doing with other products in case of Brexit-related distribution delays.

“It should not really impact U.K. patients, but it certainly could impact our exports,” Soriot said in an interview. The company may require some flexibility from Europe’s drug regulator on Zoladex “because otherwise we may have difficulties with this product.”

The U.K.’s planned exit from the European Union in March has become a major headache for drugmakers, throwing up new challenges to everything from research to regulation to shipping. Astra is spending about 40 million pounds ($53 million) to duplicate U.K.-based testing facilities that prepare products for distribution, and hasn’t even added up many other costs, such as making and storing the extra stock it may need in case of delays at borders.

“It’s a waste of money, quite frankly,” the CEO said. “We may not have to use it if an agreement is reached.”

Companies are preparing for a no-deal departure from the EU with contingency plans that include factoring in extra days of travel to allow for delays caused by border checks. Merck & Co. is planning for the possibility of a temporary supply blackout, and may stockpile as much as six months worth of goods, Bloomberg reported in June.

Astra’s Zoladex is primarily used to treat prostate cancer. It’s produced in Macclesfield, England, used widely in many countries outside the U.K., including China, according to Soriot. The drug garnered sales of more than $700 million last year.

©2018 Bloomberg L.P.