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Moving Apiguard production in times of coronavirus

Apiguard, the UK’s most popular varroa control treatment, is back in full production despite lockdown restrictions when manufacturing of the gel was moved to Northern Italy earlier this year.

When Vita Bee Health decided to begin producing Apiguard, its near-natural varroa-control treatment, in Italy, the company knew that logistical challenges were inevitable and had therefore stockpiled several month’s reserves to ensure that the supply chain would not be disrupted. Then came covid-19 and lockdowns, first in the new production centre in Northern Italy and then at headquarters in the UK. This presented a novel set of experiences, but customers knew nothing of the dramatic behind-the-scenes activity.

Paulo Mielgo, Vita Bee Health’s technical director, explains, “After a search for potential manufacturers of Apiguard, we found the ideal partner, Cicieffe SRL, near Bergamo in Northern Italy. The search hadn’t been straightforward because we needed a company holding two key licences, one to produce veterinary products and the other to produce semi-solid products, since Apiguard, as a gel, is a relatively specialist product.”

Movement of the sophisticated manufacturing equipment was scheduled for March and the plan was that a team from Vita would visit Bergamo to oversee installation. The equipment was moved and ready to be assembled when the pandemic lockdowns began, first in Italy, just before the planned flight from London to Milan, and then in the UK.

“Everything was ready, but it was so frustrating that we couldn’t travel and we had no idea when the lockdowns would be lifted. So, we quickly turned to video conferencing for the remote assembly work. It had to be four-way – and in different languages! Two groups were in Hampshire, one in Manchester and the fourth in Italy. My interpretation skills were stretched, not just by different languages but by varying accents and the technical language of the software too!” says Paulo, who speaks Spanish, Italian and English.

In the event, the complex installation was accomplished with remarkable ease over a period of three days, and the first batches of Apiguard were being made that same week. “Our Italian manufacturers were superb,” says Paulo, “they never lost a single gram of the product.”

Then came the regulatory hurdles. The USA could receive batches first because its regulatory regime is less strict for the product. For Europe, France was the European Union ‘reference member’ country, which other EU countries would look to for the go-ahead to permit the product’s sale.

Just as everything seemed to be proceeding along slightly delayed but acceptable timescales, the Italian company had to divert resources to the production of much-needed hand-sanitiser liquids to help in the fight against the spread of covid-19.

“We could hardly object to Cicieffe diverting resources to hand gel production,” says Dr Max Watkins, CEO of Vita Bee Health. “The Italian company team had been working so conscientiously through the lockdown with many of the staff cycling to work – and yet all around them the coronavirus was threatening them, their families and their friends.”

At last, on 31 August 2020, approvals were achieved and product was ready to leave the factory.

Max Watkins concludes, “We were delighted that despite the highly unusual and testing circumstances, the supply of Apiguard was delayed by just two or three weeks for a few European customers. Everything is now on track and I pay tribute to everyone involved in this remarkable success.”

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