The novel coronavirus that is spreading in China may harm the health of more than those who catch the respiratory illness — the killer infection may disrupt production of the world’s pharmaceuticals.

China is a giant supplier of ingredients for medicines worldwide, home to 13% of all facilities that make ingredients for drugs sold in the U.S., according to the Food and Drug Administration. Most of the plants are located in an area of China far from the outbreak, but that’s no assurance there won’t be disruptions if the outbreak intensifies, according to a STAT report.

If the Chinese government continues to quarantine portions of the country to contain the virus — which has killed more than 80 people and infected thousands — the production and supplies of drug ingredients may become threatened. Transit hubs may be put out of commission, which would prevent shipping products to other countries.

“The time to worry is now,” Steven Lynn, a former director of the FDA Office of Pharmaceutical Quality who now runs a consulting firm, told STAT. He said drugmakers should be assessing ingredient inventories and seeing what they will need to do if Chinese suppliers are cut off.

Michael Osterholm, director of the University of Minnesota’s Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy, told CNBC that the virus will affect the U.S. drug-supply chain “within days or weeks” because many drugmakers rely on “Just-In-Time” systems without large stockpiles. Wuhan, where the outbreak is centered, is a transport hub so the virus may affect other industries, he said.

Large drugmakers may be in a better situation to cope than smaller ones because they may “dual-source” ingredients, Martin VanTrieste, head of nonprofit generic drugmaker Civica Rx, told STAT.

  • Moderna, Novavax and Inovio are among biotechs who have announced plans to work on an effective vaccine for the coronavirus, according to Business Insider. The long and arduous process and won’t help the current situation any time soon.
  • Venture capitalists spent a record $838 million on vaccine deals in 2019, a 72% jump from five years ago, according to Pitchbook. There are nine companies focusing on vaccines for the Zika and Ebola viruses, and VC investments spiked in 2017 when three companies raised $42 million dollars, compared to zero capital a year after. 
  • If you have traveled to China in the last 14 days and feel sick with fever, cough or difficulty breathing, you should seek medical care right away, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The CDC also recommends that you should skip non-essential travel to areas in China where the outbreak is occurring.