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AbbVie, Eli Lilly, Novartis and more cut back in Russia amid corporate exodus over Ukraine war

Since the invasion of Ukraine, hundreds of companies have announced a pause or withdrawal of businesses in Russia. Drugmakers Eli Lilly, Novartis and AbbVie are among the latest to join the growing list.

Eli Lilly has suspended the exportation of “non-essential medicines” to Russia, leaving its local operations in the country now focused solely on cancer and diabetes, the Indianapolis pharma said in a statement Tuesday.

Lilly will also donate any profits from Russia to organizations dedicated to humanitarian relief, the company said, joining Pfizer in that initiative. It has also cut all investments, promotional activities and new clinical trials in Russia.

Lilly has been present in Russia since 1989. Aside from cancer and diabetes treatments, the company sells drugs in other disease areas such as osteoporosis and mental disorders, according to the company’s Russian website.

Unlike other business sectors, suspending all operations or pulling out of Russia completely isn’t a viable option for pharmaceutical companies from a humanitarian standpoint.

Novo Nordisk, another major diabetes drug supplier, said it will also do all it can to maintain supply in both Ukraine and Russia.

The company is “deeply concerned about the Russian invasion of Ukraine” and says it’s in regular contact with its employees in the country.

“We have suspended further marketing and clinical investments in Russia and are focusing our efforts to help our local employees and to ensure more than 650,000 patients can continue their treatment with our essential medication,” a Novo Nordisk spokesperson said over email. “The factory in Russia is still operating to supply medication to patients in Russia,” he added.

The company has paused starting new clinical trials and halted active enrollment of new patients in Russia, where there are currently more than 3,000 patients enrolled in studies, Novo said.

Novo’s done the same in Ukraine, where there are currently 900 patients enrolled in trials.

Earlier this week, Pfizer and Bayer made similar moves: both companies are halting investments in Russia and limiting their offerings in the country to essential medicines. Pfizer also said it will redirect any profits from Russia to support humanitarian efforts in Ukraine.

Taking a similar approach, AbbVie said it has temporarily paused operations for its aesthetics products in Russia. It has also stopped launching new clinical trials and the screening and enrollment in existing studies in Ukraine and Russia.

Fellow U.S. drugmaker Merck & Co. said it will stop making further investments in Russia. “For humanitarian reasons, we have a responsibility to continue to supply our lifesaving and life-changing medicines and vaccines to patients in Russia,” a Merck spokesperson said in a statement to Fierce Pharma.

In a newly updated post, Swiss pharma giant Novartis said the group and its generics unit Sandoz have decided to suspend any investment in Russia as well as commercial marketing activities. The company remains “committed to providing access to medicines to patients in both countries,” Novartis said.

Meanwhile, Novartis’ cross-town rival Roche is also maintaining some operations in Russia with a focus on delivering “essential medicines and certain diagnostics” in accordance with international humanitarian law, a Roche spokesperson told Fierce Pharma.

As Russia’s invasion continues, many multinational companies have made changes to their operaionts in the country. As of Wednesday, about 400 companies are suspending, scaling back or outright withdrawing their Russian operations, according to a list compiled by Yale School of Management.