Eli Lilly to halt exports of non-essential medicines to Russia

Eli Lilly will stop exporting non-essential medicines to Russia including Cialis, a treatment for erectile dysfunction, following Vladimir Putin’s invasion of Ukraine.

The US drugmaker said on Tuesday it would continue to supply treatments for life-threatening diseases such as cancer and diabetes but that it would suspend all investments, promotional activities and new clinical trials in Russia.

It marks the first time a big US pharmaceutical company has publicly announced plans to restrict exports of some medicines due to the war in Ukraine and comes as other drugmakers distance themselves from Russia.

Any profits generated by sales of essential medicines such as insulin or cancer drugs would be donated to humanitarian relief efforts, Lilly said.

“For nearly 150 years, Lilly has worked to ensure patients have access to the medicines they need, no matter where they may live,” she said in a statement. “Our Russian operations are now only focused on ensuring people suffering from diseases like cancer and diabetes continue to get the Lilly medicines they need.”

Pfizer said this week a voluntary pause in the flow of its medicines to Russia would be in direct violation of the company’s foundational principle of putting patients first. It has said it would donate any profits from its Russian operations to direct humanitarian support for the Ukrainian people.

The export of medicines, the materials necessary for making them and medical equipment have been excluded from tough sanctions imposed on Russia by the US, EU and other western nations. This has meant pharmaceuticals and healthcare are among the only industries still doing substantial business in Russia.

Health experts and bioethicists said Russia’s invasion and bombing of civilian areas had resulted in difficult ethical questions for pharma companies.

“This isn’t like a McDonald’s Big Mac. Insulin or other essential products such as antibiotics are part and parcel of things needed to save people’s lives, ”said Ezekiel Emanuel, a bioethicist and vice-provost of global initiatives at the University of Pennsylvania. “It’s really tricky.”

Emanuel said Lilly’s approach was impressive because it made a distinction between essential and non-essential medicines. However, he said it is often difficult to distinguish between an essential and non-essential medicine.

Lilly declined to provide a full list of medicines that it would stop exporting to Russia but confirmed to the Financial Times that Cialis, a former blockbuster drug for treating erectile dysfunction, would be included on the list.

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