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How Puerto Rico’s life science sector can boost the U.S. supply chain

April 28, 2021

Coronavirus took the world by storm. As businesses across many sectors scrambled to pivot, others saw an opportunity to increase their role in helping nip the pandemic’s business threats in the bud. The life science manufacturing sector in the U.S. is one such industry, quickly rising to the occasion by tapping into its resources to address the challenge.

However, there was a crucial hurdle that needed to be cleared: COVID-19 crippled supply chains in China, cutting off up to 90% of the key ingredients used in global drug manufacturing. A Wall Street Journal column said it best, “The fallout (of disruptions in timely deliveries) can become acute if supplies aren’t available when demand spikes. This is one of the main reasons the coronavirus pandemic has crippled health care supply chains.” The solution? Puerto Rico’s life science manufacturing sector, a global powerhouse with six decades of industry excellence.

Puerto Rico – a U.S. territory nestled in the Caribbean – quickly caught the industry’s eye as an alternative to Asia for drug makers serving the Americas, seeing a unique opportunity to reshore pharma manufacturing back within the nation’s shores and strengthen its domestic supply chain. What they saw, and continue to see, in Puerto Rico is precisely what Invest Puerto Rico is using as leverage to drive the island’s economic transformation while boosting the manufacturing efforts of businesses from far and wide.

How does Puerto Rico factor in to reshoring life science manufacturing efforts? The island has long served as a medical device and pharmaceutical manufacturing center, and officials believe more can be done to boost the sector even further. The industry ecosystem is already primed to support success. The island is home to 12 of the world’s 20 top-grossing pharmaceutical companies (J&J, Roche, Pfizer, Novartis and Merck). Also, five of the world’s top 10 selling drugs in 2018 were manufactured on the island (Humira, Eliquis, Opdivo, Enbrel and Xarelto). Internationally, eight of the 15 top-selling biopharmaceutical products are made in Puerto Rico.

This is supported by a talented, highly educated, and bilingual workforce of 90,000 manufacturing employees. Of that, tens of thousands specialize in pharma production. Puerto Rico also offers three major university systems with dozens of campuses and specialized schools, as well as a robust network of professional organizations.

Ongoing improvements to Puerto Rico’s existing infrastructure that will accommodate greater manufacturing output are already under development, including the rollouts of 5G and 0G networks, increased connectivity rooted in the Internet of Things (IoT) technology, artificial intelligence, automation, and more. Together, these innovations empower the life sciences with delivery of real-time data to companies, at scale; preventive and predictive maintenance to monitor equipment status within the facility; ability to track cargo by the second throughout its journey; and smart facility management.

Then there’s the island’s designation by the U.S. Department of Transportation as an international air transshipment hub. This unique waiver eases passenger and cargo transfer operations, helping companies cut costs, reduce shipping times, and ensure quality handling of time and temperature sensitive products.

Puerto Rico is already a U.S.-based life science center, and more is being done to leverage its impressive assets to make the country even safer and more secure from global disruptions. The U.S. should not have to rely on imported goods to care for its 331-plus million residents. By tapping into the existing ecosystem, the U.S. can ensure that Americans get access to the highest quality and most cost-effective drugs on the market.

About the Author
Rodrick Miller, CEO, Invest Puerto Rico
Rodrick Miller joined Invest Puerto Rico, the island’s economic development organization, in 2019. He is one of the foremost economic development leaders in the country, respected for his ability to navigate complex political and business environments, craft strategies, and structure deals to provide long-term value to communities and investors.

This piece was submitted as part of the Global Marketplace at BIO Digital 2021. The NEW Global Marketplace at BIO Digital is designed to be the destination to showcase any region’s biotech strength and elevate its leading companies via high-energy, fast-paced presentations, coupled with live face-to-face networking. Learn more here.

Originally published in the BIOtechNOW Blog on April 26, 2021.

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