Science

Antibiotics: GSK Mayenne plant doubles shortage – Sciences et Avenir

To deal with a shortage of some essential antibiotics, the British laboratory GSK is hard at work at its factory in the western French city of Mayenne as the problem has grown global.

Historically specialized in antibiotics, this facility produces amoxicillin, which is widely used for treatment, especially in children: in the latter it even accounts for 70% of antibiotic prescriptions, for example, for ear infections.

Amoxicillin, which is one of the penicillins, comes in two forms, both made in Mayenne, either alone or in combination with clavulanic acid to improve absorption in the body.

On fully automated production lines, the white powder fills glass vials at a rate of up to 120 vials per minute. The drug, which is produced in other forms, in tablets, capsules or sachets, is then packaged and transported to 110 countries around the world, while 28% of production remains in France.

An employee with a pack of Augmentin tablets at the GSK pharmaceutical plant in Mayenne, January 5, 2023 (AFP – JEAN-FRANCOIS MONIER)

The plant, whose productivity declined in the midst of the pandemic, is once again operating at full capacity, at maximum capacity. The 370 employees are shifting day and night, five days a week, because demand jumped after the pandemic receded. According to Gers (a group for the development and production of statistics for the pharmaceutical industry), 45 million boxes of amoxicillin were sold in France in 2020, compared to 63 million issued from January to November 2022.

– The recruit –

The scarcity problem is global. Because the winter ailments, which were significantly reduced after the conclusion, returned on a scale that was not foreseen by the laboratories.

France, Spain, Australia and the US have been sounding the alarm for weeks now, especially with regard to pediatric forms. And tensions could last, Health Minister François Braun warned on Thursday, who said it would take “another two months to really calm down and replenish our supplies.”

For GSK specifically, this means doubling production in two years and moving from 45 million boxes produced in 2021 to a target of 87 million boxes in 2023. September,” testifies Christophe Vadou, director of the Mayenne factory.

GSK pharmaceutical factory in Mayenne, January 5, 2023 (AFP - JEAN-FRANCOIS MONIER)GSK pharmaceutical factory in Mayenne, January 5, 2023 (AFP – JEAN-FRANCOIS MONIER)

To do this, last year it was necessary to hire about forty people, and the recruitment has not yet been completed: “In total, we should reach 440 employees on the site by the end of 2023,” he says.

“Recruitment is our number one priority given that we are full time,” adds the director of the Mayenne site. This labor shortage is the reason why the factory did not switch to weekend production. Because it takes four to six months to train a production line manager, says Mr Vadu, who foresees that amoxicillin production will remain at a higher level than before the pandemic.

For its part, the French National Agency for the Safety of Medicines a few days ago authorized the production of amoxicillin directly by some pharmacists, while other laboratories are investing in the production of more amoxicillin. Thus, Sandoz, the generics division of Swiss Novartis, has taken action at its Kundla facility in Austria, including hiring additional staff in addition to additional investment.

“The sense of urgency was caused by the situation in France and in the world,” comments Mr Vadou, who says his teams have been mobilized by the situation that “concerns” them.

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