Great news for patients from the second “Congress of Vienna”
The big news today comes from Vienna, where our company has just wrapped up a press conference with the Austrian government, announcing a joint investment plan to strengthen the future of antibiotics manufacturing in Europe.
This joint investment, worth more than EUR 150 million, represents a major step towards the rapidly-emerging pan-European goal of promoting “domestic” production of essential medicines.
I find it somehow appropriate that we made this announcement in Vienna, the “City of Dreams” and the venue for the 1815 Congress of Vienna. More precisely, our joint press conference took place in the very same room of the Federal Chancellery of Austria where the 1815 congress was held.
Many historians believe the history of modern Europe can be divided into two periods: before and after the Vienna Congress, which effectively ended the post-revolutionary Napoleonic Wars and settled the balance of power in Europe for nearly a century.
Similarly, students of medical history might say it knows two main periods: before and after antibiotics.
The backbone of modern medicine
Before Alexander Fleming discovered penicillin in 1928, even the most minor infection could prove deadly. His first patient, a London policeman, died after being pricked by a rose while gardening – he received penicillin, but not enough.
Antibiotics today are the backbone of modern medicine: curing infectious diseases, minimizing risk in open surgery, and helping a suppressed immune system fight off infection during chemotherapy.
And penicillins, the focus of today’s announcement and the cornerstone of our global antibiotics business at Sandoz, remain one of the two main categories of antibiotics used worldwide. Indeed, there’s an old joke that penicillin is called a wonder-drug because, if your doctor wonders what you have, then it’s what you get!
Our Kundl site, in the Austrian Tirol, is at the center of the last fully integrated antibiotics production chain outside Asia, and the investment announced today will help to keep it that way in the face of fierce global competition on key active ingredients, or API.
That’s not to say that “bringing production home”, a popular new political mantra as countries in Europe and beyond take stock of the learnings from the current pandemic, will be the solution to all our pharmaceutical supply issues. Life is more complicated than that – and pharma supply chains are arguably more complicated again!
An historical watershed?
Truly resilient global supply chains will need a complex balance of different policies, ranging from inventory and dual-sourcing strategies to incentive structures that go beyond price alone.
Today’s announcement, like the deal signed in Vienna two centuries ago, is just the start of a long and complex process, involving many players and many nations.
Of course, there’s no comparing the scale of this announcement with the one that shaped a large part of modern history as we know it.
However, I’d like to think that it will also go down as a modest historical watershed: the day when government and the private sector came together at the second “Congress of Vienna” to lay the framework for addressing the long-term interests of patients, in Europe and beyond.