ARTICLE | Politics, Policy & Law

Biopharma industry mobilizing support for Ukraine

Biotech leaders raising funds for medical supplies, issue call to funnel donations through NGO Direct Relief

April 4, 2022 11:27 PM UTC
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Russian attacks on civilians in Ukraine, including artillery and missile strikes on housing, hospitals and medical infrastructure, have created urgent needs for medicines and medical products both in Ukraine and among millions of refugees who have fled to neighboring countries.

Large biopharma companies are sending medicines and donating funds to relief organizations, and a group of biotech executives are leading an initiative that aims to send at least $5 million in medical assistance to Ukraine.

Multinational biopharma companies have contributed over 5 million doses of essential medicines to Ukraine since the Feb. 24 Russian invasion and have provided more than €55 million ($60.7 million) in support for relief organizations, according to a website maintained by the European Federation of Pharmaceutical Industries and Associations (EFPIA).

Separately, biotech executives and investors are working together to provide medical supplies to Ukraine.

In a letter circulated April 3 to industry executives and investors, biotech leaders wrote that the Ukrainian Ministry of Health has identified Direct Relief (DR), a non-governmental organization, as the “most effective organization at answering its calls for medicines.”

The letter asks companies that manufacture essential medicines that are on a Ministry of Health list of urgently needed medicines, medical equipment and consumables to send them to Direct Relief. It adds: “If like most of us you don’t have medicines to donate, then donate money to DR to help them procure those essential medicines they don’t stock and other healthcare-enabling products.”

The letter challenges small companies to “consider giving on the scale of $100k and larger ones much more.”

To kick-start the campaign, RA Capital has contributed $500,000 to the initiative and Ovid has contributed $100,000 in a company employee match grant.

The biotech leaders emphasized the diligence they have undertaken to ensure that DR is an effective channel for contributing to the Ukrainian humanitarian needs. “Direct Relief is the key backbone organization for getting medicines and other healthcare products to Ukraine, either directly sourcing them via donations from pharmaceutical companies or procuring them at discounted rates. If there were ever an NGO that aligns with the spirit of the biomedical innovation community to leave no patient behind, we think it’s DR.”

DR’s cold chain capabilities allow it to provide insulin and other medicines that must be stored and transported under refrigeration. Responding to requests from the Ministry of Health, DR reported during the last week of February it shipped about 200 tons of medical supplies to Ukraine, “from field medic packs used by first responders providing triage care to oxygen concentrators to critical care medicines used in an ICU setting.” The supplies included a 50-bed field hospital donated by the State of California, as well as medicines for diabetes, hypertension, cancer, and other conditions.

While the U.S. and other governments are providing billions of dollars in humanitarian assistance to Ukraine, the biotech leaders say that relatively small contributions through less formal channels be critically important. They use the analogy of the human circulatory system and suggest that in addition to the large flows of government-provided aid, which they call the “main artery,” there is a need for smaller flows, which they liken to collateral blood vessels that can keep limbs alive when the main artery is blocked.

“The Main Artery is coordinated by the Ukrainian government and is how most products are distributed. But there is a risk of that pipeline getting ‘clogged,’ primarily because it’s what the Russian are targeting to disrupt the flow of aid.”

DR feeds supplies into formal channels, but also uses alternative distribution channels, or collateral arteries, that sometimes involve “police or just ordinarily citizens driving cars and trucks,” routing humanitarian assistance to places where they are needed.

The letter was circulated by RA Capital Management’s Peter Kolchinsky and Amber Brown; Jeremy Levin and Meg Alexander of Ovid Therapeutics Inc. (NASDAQ:OVID); Diligent Capital Partners’ Dan Pasko, who is co-founder of Children of Heroes, a charity that helps Ukrainian children who have lost a parent as a result of Russia’s war against Ukraine; Caresyntax Corp.’s Dennis Kogan; Lisa Gable, an author and former senior White House official; Harbinger Health adviser Amanda Banks; and Direct Relief’s Tom Roane.