LONDON (Reuters) - AstraZeneca is increasing stockpiles of those medicines in Britain and Europe that could be affected by Brexit by around 20 percent, in preparation for potential disruption if the UK crashes out of the EU without a deal.
The move affects drugs made in Britain that could be exported to Europe and supplies in the European Union that may be headed the other way.
A company spokesman said on Wednesday that AstraZeneca currently held several months of supplies of such medicines and this was being increased for products on both sides of the Channel.
AstraZeneca's global external manufacturing head Juliette White told BBC's Newsnight program on Tuesday that the move was a "safety net" that would increase the amount of finished medicines available to pharmacies and hospitals.
"We always have an additional amount of medicines available. We are increasing that by about 20 percent," she said.
Supplies of thousands of medicines are at risk of disruption if Britain leaves the EU, forcing manufacturers to prepare for duplicate product testing and authorization to ensure their drugs stay on the market.
More than 2,600 drugs have some stage of manufacture in Britain and 45 million patient packs are supplied from the UK to other European countries each month, while another 37 million flow in the opposite direction, industry figures show.
Brexit threatens the free flow of these goods, given stringent medicine regulations that will require the retesting of drugs shipped across borders in the absence of an agreed trading arrangement.
The European Medicines Agency warned drugmakers last week that they needed to be ready for a possible hard Brexit in 2019 and said it had "serious concerns" about preparations in the case of 108 medicines made only in the UK.
AstraZeneca and other drugmakers have long been vocal in their concerns about Brexit and the need for the pharmaceuticals sector to stay within the European regulatory system.
Lawmakers agreed on Tuesday that ministers should seek to secure an agreement that allows Britain to have continued participation in the European medicines regulatory framework, but it remains unclear how this will play out in the broader EU negotiations.
(Reporting by Ben Hirschler; editing by Jason Neely)