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Pharmaceutical Chemicals

Ibuprofen shortage causes headache for analgesic makers

Shutdown in June at a BASF plant exacerbated a growing shortfall in the U.S. market

by Rick Mullin
October 4, 2018 | APPEARED IN VOLUME 96, ISSUE 40

 

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Credit: Shutterstock
Ibuprofen is the active ingredient in Advil and other popular analgesics.

BASF says it has completed inspection of repairs to its Bishop, Texas, bulk ibuprofen plant, which was shut down in June due to a technical malfunction, and that it expects to initiate start-up by the end of the year. In the meantime, though, makers of headache remedies are hard pressed to find the analgesic ingredient.

BASF had just completed an expansion of the plant when it had to shut down operations. The firm announced the project last year in conjunction with plans to build a new plant at its headquarters in Ludwigshafen, Germany.

The combined $230 million investment was a response to growth in demand and “supply gaps in the market” for ibuprofen, BASF said at the time. The gaps turned into what some call a severe shortage following the shutdown in Bishop this summer.

“This created a big shortage in the market,” says Robert Kahen, president of Dastech International, a chemical importer based in Great Neck, N.Y. The other U.S. supplier, SI Group, had limited supply and was allocating sales, he adds.

Kahen notes that companies like Dastech cannot easily find alternative suppliers for the drug. “Ibuprofen is not a product where you can go from Dick to Harry and say, ‘Can you ship me some?’ ” he says. “It requires a two-to-three-year approval process.”

Dastech and other companies became increasingly dependent on Chinese supply following the BASF shutdown. Thus, they were alarmed earlier this year when the Trump administration proposed punitive tariffs on Chinese goods, including ibuprofen.

Letters from Kahen and other importers to United States Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer emphasized the likelihood of a supply shortage and an incursion of Indian ibuprofen pills if a tariff on Chinese bulk ibuprofen went into effect. The drug was removed from the final roster of products affected by tariffs.

Meanwhile, SI Group announced plans in August to expand capacity at its Orangeburg, S.C., plant by 25% by next year. This follows a 10% capacity increase earlier this year. SI acquired the plant from Albemarle in 2014.

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