Even because the conflict in Ukraine has prompted an exodus of worldwide firms — from fast-food chains and oil producers to luxurious retailers — from Russia, U.S. and world drug firms stated they might proceed manufacturing and promoting their merchandise there.

Airways, automakers, banks, and expertise giants — a minimum of 320 firms by one count — are among the many companies curbing operations or making high-profile exits from Russia as its invasion of Ukraine intensifies. McDonald’s, Starbucks, and Coca-Cola introduced a pause in gross sales this week.

However drugmakers, medical gadget producers, and well being care firms, that are exempted from U.S. and European sanctions, stated Russians want entry to medicines and medical gear and contend that worldwide humanitarian regulation requires they maintain provide chains open.

“As a well being care firm, we now have an vital function, which is why presently we proceed to serve individuals in all international locations through which we function who depend upon us for important merchandise, some life-sustaining,” stated Scott Stoffel, divisional vp for Illinois-based Abbott Laboratories, which manufactures and sells medicines in Russia for oncology, ladies’s well being, pancreatic insufficiency, and liver well being.

Johnson & Johnson — which has company workplaces in Moscow, Novosibirsk, St. Petersburg, and Yekaterinburg — stated in a press release, “We stay dedicated to offering important well being merchandise to these in want in Ukraine, Russia, and the area, in compliance with present sanctions and whereas adapting to the quickly altering state of affairs on the bottom.”

The reluctance of drugmakers to pause operations in Russia is being met with a rising refrain of criticism.

Pharmaceutical firms that say they have to proceed to fabricate medication in Russia for humanitarian causes are “being misguided at finest, cynical within the medium case, and outright deplorably deceptive and misleading,” stated Jeffrey Sonnenfeld, a professor on the Yale Faculty of Administration who’s tracking companies which have curtailed operations in Russia. He famous that banks and expertise firms additionally present important companies.

“Russians are put in a tragic place of unearned struggling. If we proceed to make life palatable for them, then we’re persevering with to assist the regime,” Sonnenfeld stated. “These drug firms will probably be seen as complicit with essentially the most vicious operation on the planet. As an alternative of defending life, they will be seen as destroying life. The aim right here is to indicate that Putin isn’t accountable for all sectors of the economic system.”

U.S. pharmaceutical and medical firms have operated in Russia for many years, and plenty of ramped up operations after Russia invaded and annexed Crimea in 2014, navigating the fraught relationship between the U.S. and Russia amid sanctions. In 2010, Vladimir Putin, then Russian prime minister, introduced an formidable nationwide plan for the Russian pharmaceutical business that may be a pillar in his efforts to reestablish his nation as an influential superpower and wean the nation off Western pharmaceutical imports. Beneath the plan, referred to as “Pharma-2020” and “Pharma-2030,” the federal government required Western pharmaceutical firms desperate to promote to Russia’s rising center class to find manufacturing contained in the nation.

Pfizer, Johnson & Johnson, Novartis, and Abbott are among the many drugmakers that manufacture pharmaceutical medication at amenities in St. Petersburg and elsewhere within the nation and usually promote these medication as branded generics or beneath Russian manufacturers.

As well as, pharmaceutical manufacturing vegetation in Kaluga, a significant manufacturing heart for Volkswagen and Volvo southwest of Moscow, have been funded by way of a partnership between Rusnano, a state-owned enterprise that promotes the event of high-tech enterprises, and U.S. enterprise capital companies.

Russia additionally has sought to place itself as a beautiful analysis market, providing an affordable and lax regulatory atmosphere for scientific drug trials. Final yr, Pfizer performed in Russia scientific trials of Paxlovid, its experimental antiviral tablet to deal with covid-19. Earlier than the invasion started in late February, 3,072 trials have been underway in Russia and 503 have been underway in Ukraine, in response to BioWorld, a reporting hub centered on drug growth that options knowledge from Cortellis.

AstraZeneca is the highest sponsor of scientific trials in Russia, with 49 trials, adopted by a subsidiary of Merck, with 48 trials.

Thus far, drugmakers’ response to the Ukraine invasion has largely centered on public pledges to donate important medicines and vaccines to Ukrainian sufferers and refugees. They’ve additionally made basic feedback about the necessity to maintain open the provision of medicines flowing inside Russia.

Abbott has pledged $2 million to assist humanitarian efforts in Ukraine, and Pfizer, primarily based in New York, stated it has provided $1 million in humanitarian grants. Swiss drug maker Novartis stated it was increasing humanitarian efforts in Ukraine and dealing to “make sure the continued provide of our medicines in Ukraine.”

However no main pharmaceutical or medical gadget maker has introduced plans to shutter manufacturing vegetation or halt gross sales inside Russia.

In an open letter, lots of of leaders of primarily smaller biotechnology firms have referred to as on business members to stop enterprise actions in Russia, together with “funding in Russian firms and new funding inside the borders of Russia,” and to halt commerce and collaboration with Russian firms, apart from supplying meals and medicines. How lots of the signatories have enterprise operations in Russia was unclear.

Ulrich Neumann, director for market entry at Janssen, a Johnson & Johnson firm, was amongst those that signed the letter, however whether or not he was talking for the corporate was unclear. In its personal assertion posted on social media, the corporate stated it’s “dedicated to offering entry to our important medical merchandise within the international locations the place we function, in compliance with present worldwide sanctions.”

GlaxoSmithKline, headquartered in the UK, stated in a statement that it’s stopping all promoting in Russia and won’t enter into contracts that “instantly assist the Russian administration or army.” However the firm stated that as a “provider of wanted medicines, vaccines and on a regular basis well being merchandise, we now have a duty to do all we are able to to make them accessible. Because of this, we’ll proceed to provide our merchandise to the individuals of Russia, whereas we are able to.”

Nell Minow, vice chair of ValueEdge Advisors, an funding consulting agency, famous that drug firms have been handled otherwise than different industries throughout earlier world conflicts. For instance, some company ethicists suggested in opposition to pharmaceutical firms’ complete divestment from South Africa’s apartheid regime to make sure important medicines flowed to the nation.

“There’s a distinction between a hamburger and a tablet,” Minow stated. Companies ought to strongly condemn Russia’s actions, she stated, however until the U.S. enters instantly right into a conflict with Russia, firms that make important medicines and well being care merchandise ought to proceed to function. Earlier than U.S. involvement in World Conflict II, she added, there have been “some American firms that did enterprise with Germany till the final minute.”

KHN senior correspondent Arthur Allen contributed to this text.

Sarah Varney: [email protected], @SarahVarney4