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Government asks life sciences firms to support PPE supply

21st Apr 2020 6 min read

This is the latest weekly update from Santander’s life sciences team on how the coronavirus pandemic is affecting our clients and the sector as a whole.


Santander is working closely with customers and partners from across life sciences to help them overcome the current challenges as well as identify new opportunities.

One such opportunity relates to the production of personal protective equipment (PPE) for use in the NHS and by other key workers. In recent days, Santander has been contacted by the Cross Government coronavirus Emergency Supply Chain Response Team, with a view to fast-tracking equipment or finding companies that can adapt their production lines to manufacture masks, gowns, gloves and hand sanitiser. Businesses that are either based in the UK or based overseas with a record of international PPE sales should contact us so we can facilitate an introduction.

Firms that may be able to help with the supplies needed for coronavirus tests or immunisation research should contact Santander, as well as the government’s Coronavirus Support for Business web portal

The business secretary Alok Sharma has announced that some regulations on PPE have been temporarily suspended in order to speed up supply. For example, items which meet regulatory requirements but which do not carry the CE mark can be fast-tracked into the UK market. Further details can be found here

In another example of the collaborative spirit which has characterised much of the response to the pandemic, GSK and AstraZeneca have formed a partnership with the University of Cambridge to support the fight against the virus. A new testing centre is being set up at the institution’s Anne McLaren Laboratory. It will be used for high-throughput testing, as well as to look at new ways of manufacturing test kits to overcome current reagent shortages. This venture could present a valuable opportunity for lab equipment suppliers.

Spotlight set to fall on OEMs

We expect to see an increasing focus in the weeks ahead on issues facing the global supply chain for original equipment manufacturers (OEMs) across all sectors. Major OEMs themselves are generally well positioned to survive the pandemic thanks to factors such as geographical diversification and solid levels of capitalisation. The same may not be the case for many of the smaller businesses that make up their supply bases.

Looking back to the financial crisis, it is estimated the total number of global suppliers fell by as much as 20% in the recession that followed. There are increasing concerns today that the distance many OEMs have put between themselves and their supply chains may work to their disadvantage when they come to ramp production back up as the coronavirus crisis begins to ease.

As such, OEMs may decide to use the current downturn as an opportunity to analyse their supply chains. This will enable them to prioritise the throughflow of the parts and raw materials most critical for revenue generation, rather than simply taking steps to support the suppliers where they spend the most money. As well as helping production get back up to speed more quickly, this approach also has the potential to resolve longer-term sustainability issues.

Manufacturers welcome government support

The measures put in place by the Chancellor of the Exchequer, Rishi Sunak, to support businesses affected by the coronavirus crisis have been largely welcomed by manufacturers’ organisation MakeUK. Ahead of the Easter break, Sunak revealed that £90bn of business interruption loans have now been approved, supporting almost 1,000 firms. A further £1.9bn has been provided in the form of corporate finance.

There has been more evidence of the vital role manufacturers of all types are playing in producing the medical equipment vitally needed all over the world to help health services deal with the pandemic. Jaguar Land Rover (JLR) has in recent days turned over its prototype build operations to production of protective visors for key workers.

The firm is making the only re-usable NHS-approved visor of its kind at JLR’s Advanced Product Creation Centre in Gaydon, Warwickshire. Weekly capacity is expected to be around 5,000 units a week.

In the United States, meanwhile, President Trump has invoked the Cold War-era Defense Production Act to compel medical equipment maker 3M to prioritise sales in the US over foreign customers. At the same time, Chinese producers say that soaring demand has caused the price of medical-grade face masks to rise by a factor of 20.