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Gareth Carpenter
1 Apr 2020

China focused on meeting international API demand amid pandemic, say officials

China is stepping up its efforts to produce and ship active pharmaceutical ingredients (APIs), with a focus on meeting international demand, particularly for those showing potential to treat the COVID-19 disease, according to Chinese officials on Tuesday.

Overall export volumes of Chinese APIs so far in 2020 have decreased by 10-20% year-on-year due to the coronavirus pandemic, officials said at a press conference arranged by China’s State Council Information Office.

Xin Guobin, deputy minister of industry and information technology said the main cause of the export decline was a combination of greatly reduced sea freight and international shipping and increased transportation costs.

“International transportation has become a bottleneck for the supply of APIs,” he said.

He added that Chinese API production had stalled in January and February due to the impact of the epidemic, with some manufacturers stopping production, causing a shortfall in supply even before the logistics and transportation problems arose in March.

Xin said that while overall current Chinese API production levels were at 80% of normal levels, volumes of those with potential to fight COVID-19 were already higher than year-earlier yields.

He described the country’s production at the two major producers of the API chloroquine phosphate as “stable” and said one of them, Chongqing Kangle Pharmaceutical, had managed to export 4.9 tons of the API in five days.

Earlier this week, the US Food and Drug Administration approved chloroquine phosphate and hydroxychloroquine sulphate for use against COVID-19, following a few anecdotal studies showing possible benefits to relieve the acute respiratory symptoms of the disease.

China is the world’s largest producer of APIs with more than 1,500 manufacturers, producing around 3 million tons a year.

However, since the coronavirus pandemic erupted, other countries such as the US and India have emphasised the need to find alternative API suppliers or increase domestic production to reduce their exposure during unforeseen events such as COVID-19.

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