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By Jamie Cartwright
The COVID-19 outbreak has forced the pharmaceutical industry to reevaluate every aspect of the industry from manufacturing pharmaceuticals to the drug supply chains. As supplies dwindle and drug shortages become acute, the drug industry is increasingly witnessing an upheaval in the medical supply chains that could have serious repercussions. With the demand for a coronavirus vaccine intensifying, many countries see pharmaceutical science more and more as a matter of national security.
Dr. Frederick Sancilio is a pharmaceutical research scientist and entrepreneur. He founded several biotechnology companies over the past 40 years of his career. He is currently a research professor at Florida Atlantic University. Based in Vancouver, BC, he also serves as president and board member of Alpha Cognition, Inc., a Canadian biotechnology company developing therapeutics to treat Alzheimer’s disease.
The Pharmaceutical Industry at a Glance
According to Fred Sancilio, there are too many moving parts in the pharmaceutical industry. While the drug supply chains are crucial, he explains, they are by no means the only components of this vast industry. From acquiring raw materials to manufacturing and packaging the drugs, and finally shipping them to consumers worldwide, there’s a lot that could go wrong and disruptions could have an impact on millions of lives.
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The term raw materials in the pharmaceutical industry is a little misleading. Rather than naturally occurring materials, these are usually building blocks that go into the manufacturing of active pharmaceutical ingredients (APIs). Most of these building blocks are extracted or synthesized in other countries and need to be shipped to the pharmaceutical company. Sometimes bulk products are manufactured in different countries and then delivered to their respective markets. Even packaging can take place in yet a different part of the world. In other words, every stage of the drug manufacturing process involves supply chains.
Distribution Disruptions Under COVID-19
Once the medical product has been manufactured, packaged, and labeled, it’s time for distribution. According to Fred Sancilio, this is one of the biggest hurdles that the medical supply chains face. This includes short-term shortages as a result of lockdowns. When drug plants had to shut down even temporarily, there were delays and even the cancelation of drug deliveries on a global scale.
But, it’s not just the lockdowns to prevent the spread of COVID-19 that had led to drug shipment delays. Border restrictions are another factor that played havoc with the drug supply chain. With so many international flights canceled, air cargo almost came to a standstill. It didn’t help that many parts of the world became pandemic hotspots, which increased the demand for medical supplies. And while some of these shortages were the result of bad inventory, in many cases, it was trade restrictions and disruptions in the medical supply chains that had exacerbated the problem.
Risks and Delays on the Operational Level
The way Fred Sancilio sees it, there are other risks on the operational level that could have a huge impact on the pharmaceutical industry. Some of these risks have to do with production limits, plant capacity, and shipping constraints. And they are all impacted by COVID-19. From reduced staff shifts to imposed quarantines or the stepping up of health inspections, many plants have seen a big decrease in production.
In addition to all of these delays, certain parts of the drug supply chains are seeing more shortages than others. The cold chain storage, for example, is one of those parts whose capacity needs to be upgraded to meet the increased demand for the upcoming coronavirus vaccines. Not to mention that with the focus on developing new vaccines, other aspects of pharmaceutical science might have to take a back seat as well. This could have a long-term impact on new drug introductions and developments that have little to do with COVID-19.
Want to read more in Hindi? Checkout: जीडीपी गिरने के बावजूद उद्योगों ने जताया आश्चर्य, आंकड़ों को बताया अनुमान से बेहतर
What the pandemic has revealed was that trade policies were so fragile, they posed a risk to the global response to COVID-19. One of the first steps many governments took was to close borders in the early stages of the pandemic. This was justified then as a necessary step to protect national security. “What worries me,” explains Frederick Sancilio, “is that this could lead to more serious restrictions on the movement of people and products. And by-products, I mean critical medical supplies.”
If countries let populist sentiments run rampant, changes in policies could result in limiting offshore research and restricting cooperation between pharmaceutical scientists across the globe. This could have devastating effects not just on drug supply but on the pharmaceutical industry as a whole. For example, a slight change in trade policies could put the operations of a pharmaceutical company that relies on a certain supplier from a different country at risk.
This all creates the need for what Frederick Sancilio calls a resilient medical supply chain. And it’s not just international relations and geopolitical factors that impact that supply chain. It’s also some internal issues that COVID-19 has created and brought to light. One of those issues has to do with the heightened inspections of imported goods and supplies.
The pandemic has made it imperative that all imported shipments go through rigorous health checks. This can cause delays in shipment deliveries, which also impacts the pharmaceutical industry and drug manufacturing companies. It also impacts patients who need their drugs delivered to them and might put their health and very lives at risk.
Fred Sancilio on COVID-19 and the Pharma Industry
One of the questions the pharma industry is grappling with has to do with supplies. According to Frederick Sancilio, those companies that only have one international supplier are at the mercy of shifts in trade policies more than those who have diverse suppliers in different countries.
This is why many companies are evaluating their current supply chains to identify any vulnerable links or soft spots that could fail under the strain of high demand or a similar catastrophe. In the pharmaceutical world, capacity redundancy is more than a buzzword. It holds the key to the survival of many drug companies and the health and wellbeing of millions of people worldwide.
(Disclaimer: The article is sponsored, and hence promotes some commercial links.)
Facebook says it plans to hire 10,000 workers in the European Union over the next five years to work on a new computing platform.
The company said in a blog post Sunday that those high-skilled workers will help build "the metaverse," a futuristic notion for connecting people online that encompasses augmented and virtual reality.
Facebook executives have been touting the metaverse as the next big thing after the mobile internet as they also contend with other matters such as antitrust crackdowns, the testimony of a whistleblowing former employee and concerns about how the company handles vaccine-related and political misinformation on its platform.
In a separate blog post Sunday, the company defended its approach to combating hate speech, in response to a Wall Street Journal article that examined the company's inability to detect and remove hateful and excessively violent posts. (VOA/RN)
Keywords: Facebook, Metaverse, Augmented and Virtual Reality
As children, singing the rhyme Rock A Bye Baby was a fun thing to do. It was a statement of thrill and adventure to imagine a child climbing to the top of a tree and rocking to sleep. Especially in the Indian context, rocking a baby to sleep by attaching the cradle to the tree is quite a common thing. But the origin of this rhyme, or lullaby, seems rooted in other histories.
The most popular notion associated with this lullaby is of women leaving their babies tied to tree branches, rocking to sleep with the wind. It is believed that at the time this lullaby was written, it was inspired by a coloniser who saw the Native American women tie their children in birch bark cradles to the trees. The babies went to sleep rocked by the gusts of wind while the parents went about their tasks.
A Native American wooden cradle Image source: Wikimedia Commons
Another interpretation of the rhyme is that it is an allegory to Betty Kenny, or Kenyon, as some versions record it. The Kenyons were a tree-dwelling family, and they used to live in a yew tree. They had carved the tree branches to fit their babies and allowed them to nestle there during the day. The part of the rhyme that talks about falling off the tree is a little scary in this context, but the speculation is that the tree branches were quite low.
The final interpretation of the lullaby has political allusions. King James II of England, was the last Catholic king. He had no heir and reportedly used another baby to impersonate his own. But he was found out and exiled in the Glorious Revolution that took place after he was deposed. The act of falling down from the cradle is a metaphor for those who make mistakes from being overconfident or proud.
The many versions that exist of the rhyme/lullaby make it confusing to really know why it was written in such a strange and morbid manner. Each version points to a different time in history where certain practices were prevalent. However, despite all the various interpretations available, the lullaby itself works wonders in rocking babies to sleep, and perhaps that is the only reason it has survived.
Keywords: Lullaby, Rhyme, King James II, Kenyons, Native Americans, Colonisers
As kids growing up in different states, Shoba Narayan and Michael Maliakel shared a love of one favorite film — "Aladdin." Both are of Indian descent, and in the animated movie, they saw people who looked like them.
That shared love has gone full-circle this month as Narayan and Maliakel lead the Broadway company of the musical "Aladdin" out of the pandemic, playing Princess Jasmine and the hero from the title, respectively.
"Growing up, there was such little South Asian and Middle Eastern representation in the American media, and Princess Jasmine was really all I had. She was a huge role model to me as someone who was intelligent and strong and independent and beautifully curious, and that's who I wanted to be," says Narayan, who grew up in Pennsylvania.
The pair arrived at "Aladdin" in very different ways. Maliakel is making his Broadway debut, but Narayan is a musical theater veteran, having made her Broadway debut in "Natasha, Pierre & The Great Comet of 1812" and touring with "Hamilton" as Eliza Hamilton.
She was in "Wicked" as Nessarose when the pandemic shut down Broadway in March 2020. Her agent called in April with the prospect of auditioning for Jasmine. She sang "A Whole New World" over Zoom on gallery mode, pretending to be on a magic carpet. "It was a very unique experience," she says, laughing.
Disney producers flew her to New York to meet face-to-face and go through the material again. Narayan was asked to read with different Aladdin potential actors. She got the gig: "I went from a wicked witch to a Disney princess. Can't complain."
Maliakel, a native of New Jersey, came from the world of opera, a baritone who studied at Johns Hopkins University and the 2014 winner at the National Musical Theatre Competition. He trained his voice to be flexible, waiting for the right window to open.
"I didn't really see a lot of people doing what I wanted to do in the world," he says. "There just wasn't a whole lot of representation. So it's really hard to imagine yourself in those scenarios when you have no one to look up to as a role model or an example of how it could be done."
He played Porter and understudied Raoul in a national tour of "The Phantom of the Opera," which ended its run in Toronto just before the pandemic hit.
"I always dreamed that Broadway might happen someday," he says, laughing. "I'm just kind of dipping my toes into the waters in one of the biggest male roles in the business right now, and it's kind of surreal."
'Aladdin' featured as a Broadway Musical with a cast of Indian origin playing the main roles Image credit: Wikimedia Commons
Broadway's "Aladdin" is a musical adaptation of the 1992 movie starring Robin Williams. The musical's story by Chad Beguelin hews close to the film: A street urchin finds a genie in a lamp and hopes to woo a princess while staying true to his values and away from palace intrigue.
Key Alan Menken songs from the film — including "Friend Like Me," ″Prince Ali" and "A Whole New World" — are used. The lyricists are the late Howard Ashman, Tim Rice and Beguelin.
The show — and it's two new leads — had a few performances to celebrate Broadway's return from the pandemic this fall before it was forced to close for several days when breakthrough COVID-19 cases were detected. The actors say the safety of the cast, crew and audience are paramount and closing was the smart move.
"This is how we keep theater going in the pandemic," Maliakel says. "The other option is to just not do it at all. And that's not an option. A week's worth of lost performances, when we look back on things in a year or so, I think will just be a little blip on the radar."
They both look back with heart-thumping appreciation at the early performances when they welcomed back theater-starved audiences, who gave the company 3-minute standing ovations just for singing "A Whole New World."
"It is every brown girl's dream to be singing that song on an actual flying carpet," says Narayan. "And the fact that I got to do it on Broadway in the full costume with the lights and the 32-piece orchestra beneath me — oh, my gosh, I really had to hold it together. It was emotional overload for me."
Maliakel recalls that he and his brothers wore out their VHS cassette version of "Aladdin." He remembers having lunchboxes, pajamas and bed sheets with the film's theme. Aladdin was "every little brown kid's prince." Now he is that prince.
"Now, finally, to get to get paid to do it on the world's largest stage — it's not lost on me how crazy that is," he says. "The responsibility of my position right now feels really great. This moment sort of feels bigger than me in some ways, and I don't take that lightly. I think it's a really exciting time." (VOA/RN)
Keywords: Aladdin, Broadway, Musical, Indian Descendant cast,