Outbreak of a deadly swine fever could trigger global heparin shortage

Nov. 13, 2019

Heparin, one of the world’s most critical heart medications, could soon run in short supply due to an outbreak of African swine fever that’s wiped out nearly a quarter of the world’s pigs.

According to a report in Bloomberg, most of the pigs impacted by the outbreak were in China, where about half of the world’s pigs reside. And because Heparin is derived from pig intestines, China also supplies 60-80 percent of the API used to make the fast-acting blood thinner.

Following an outbreak of the deadly disease, a large number of slaughtered hogs initially created a spike in available ingredients needed to make heparin. Now, because the pig population has dwindled and fewer are being culled, available heparin supplies could plummet.

Drug manufacturers around the world, including Germany’s Fresenius and South Africa’s Aspen Pharmacare Holdings, are taking steps to protect heparin supplies. Massachusetts General Hospital reported that in August, its stockpile was so low that it was close to canceling cardiac surgeries. The World Health Organization is also now asking global governments to stockpile the medication. 

The FDA is now encouraging the industry to extract the key raw ingredient for heparin from bovine sources — but obtaining regulatory approval for new formulations could hamper quick availability.

Between 10-12 million patients are given heparin in the U.S. every year to prevent blood clots and treat heart attacks.

Read the full Bloomberg report.