Bordeaux (AFP)

"Stopper", Upsa workers in Agen take out every day up to a million boxes of paracetamol-based medicines, the main remedy for the symptoms of Covid-19. With the hope that we will remember, after the crisis, the importance of a pharmacy "made in France".

With the debate over chloroquine, we almost forget that paracetamol is expressly recommended to treat fever, headache and pain, symptoms of Covid-19 when it remains mild, the vast majority of cases.

"We have no pretension to treat the disease. We treat the symptoms, and it is already very important in this period when people are going to have a fever, sometimes very strong", asks François Duplaix, CEO of Upsa first private employer in Lot-et-Garonne. "Paracetamol is the first-line molecule for fever, and we see the resounding recognition of its importance".

Factories in Agen and Passage d'Agen, where Upsa notably produces Dafalgan and Efferalgan (N.2 and 3 on the market behind Sanofi's Doliprane) release between 800,000 and one million boxes per day. Paracetamol, usually 80% of production, is "currently close to 100%", says Mr. Duplaix.

The chains, in 3X8 on paracetamol, rotate at maximum and the turbo has been put on the distribution "with the addition of a night shift, shipments of 1.6 or even 2 million boxes / day, twice the usual rate ". On stocks, "in general one to two months in France, we hold for the moment," says management.

800 people, out of the usual 1,300, work on the sites, heir to the laboratory of the Union of Applied Scientific Pharmacology (Upsa) created in 1935 by a radiologist from Agen, inventor of an effervescent for gastric pain.

The other employees are teleworking, considered vulnerable, prevented (children), or victims of Covid-19, with a dozen suspect cases and two proven according to management.

All are "well aware of the crucial role they play in this crisis, and in several countries," said Bruno Bouthol, FO delegate. The brand is present in 60 countries, leader in Belgium, Switzerland, strong in Greece, Italy, Spain.

- Yesterday in the street, today crucial -

But many come to work "with the ball in the stomach," says another delegate. Even if the safety culture, mask, gloves, gowns, is in the DNA of the laboratory. Recently 6,500 masks have been released by the State, 12,000 are being transported by the Japanese Taisho, who took over Upsa in 2019 from the American Bristol-Myers Squibb.

From the cloakroom to the company restaurant, to reinforced cleaning between rotations, the management ensures that they are in a safe situation. "Some chains are large with space, but others on 20 m2, there are three people. Inevitably there are interactions ...", tempers a delegate who would like screenings to "reassure".

Staff, as management, perfectly perceive the importance of the moment. "There were signs (that) governments were beginning to realize the importance of the health independence of France. The Covid crisis made + explode + the problem", underlines Mr. Duplaix.

About ten years ago, he recalls, Upsa obtained raw materials, a chemical compound, in France from a subsidiary of the former Rhône-Poulenc. "All of this has been outsourced." Upsa now sources 85% in the United States, 15% in China.

"We can think that this theme of made in France, health independence, will be at the heart of the next CSIS" (Strategic Council of Health Industries, which brings together government and industry in the sector) in early 2021, advises the manager without risk. Who by then calls for a "postponement or cancellation" of the drop in the prices of reimbursable paracetamol, scheduled for June.

The unions, however, hope that the state "will remember that the employees of Upsa worked for the common good". And will review his copy on prices, but also on ... pensions. "Those who are clogged to produce paracetamol are those who were in the street yesterday," squeaks a delegate.

© 2020 AFP