Pharma sector investment in Nigeria hits N70bn

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By Alex C

Investment in Nigeria’s pharmaceutical sector has hit N70 billion in the last four years, the Pharmaceutical Manufacturers Group of the Manufacturers Association of Nigeria (PMG-MAN) revealed to BusinessDay.

While Nigeria’s pharma sector, valued at over $3billion has begun the manufacture of relevant medicines such as anti-retrovirals (ARVs)for HIV/AIDS, Artemisinnin Combination Therapy (ACTs) for malaria intervention, commodities (zinc sulphate/Oral Rehydration Solution and Chlorhexidine gel, to manage umbilical cord care) in response to growing public health demands, there is renewed interest by many pharmaceutical firms in the country, in the areas of quality improvement, international certification, as well as World Health Organisation (WHO) prequalification.

Okey Akpa, managing director, SKG Pharma, revealed that Nigeria’s pharmaceutical industry has witnessed increased investments, leading to new innovations and global certification by WHO and other international bodies, a situation that makes the nation a major hub in the West-African region and in Africa’s pharmaceutical space.

“We are proud to confirm that a Nigerian company, Drugfield Pharmaceuticals Ltd, has been granted regulatory approval to produce Chlorhexidine gel, a high impact, low-cost medicine that prevents umblical cord infections in newborns.

“It is the first registered Chlorhexidine gel in Africa. It is noteworthy to state that this medical product is on WHO’s List of Essential Medicines, a list of the most important medication needed in a basic health system,” said Akpa, who is also chairman, PMG-MAN, in an interview with Pride Magazine.

He further said “Swizz Pharma Nigeria Ltd is the first pharma manufacturer in West Africa, followed by three other companies (Chi Pharmaceutical ltd, Evans Medical Plc and May & Baker Nigeria Plc) to meet WHO standard of Good Manufacturing Practice (GMP).

Manufacturers processing quality improvements, international certification, including WHO prequalification in Nigeria, have made cumulative investment topping N70billon in the last four years.

“We expect that four Nigerian pharma firms will have their products pre-qualified by WHO in the next six months. This will enable these companies participate in the UNICEF, WHO bid for international bidding of drugs.”

In spite of the enormous hope which Africa’s largest economy with Gross Domestic Product (GDP) in excess of $510 billion elicits, its quest to remain self sufficient in drug production is under threat as no Nigerian pharma firm manufactures vaccines.

This means that all vaccines for immunisation programmes (against tuberculosis, diphtheria, pertussis, tetanus, poliomyelitis, measles, etc.) are imported and used during national and sub-national immunisation programmes in-country.

Nnamdi Okafor, managing director, May & Baker Nigeria Plc told Pride Magazine that no Nigerian pharmaceutical firm manufactures vaccines, as a result of huge capital investment required and market sustainability.

While it cost over N2billion to set up a manufacturing line that produces a vaccines, Okafor observed that it is unattractive for pharmaceutical firms to commence vaccine production as government accounts for over 95 percent of vaccine purchase, with the private market for vaccines relatively small.

“Though the vaccine market is potentially lucrative, the challenge is that vaccine procurement is largely driven by government. If Nigeria has the basic technology for vaccine production, then production in the country would be possible.

“Most diseases that vaccines protect against are public health issues, therefore government does most of the purchasing. However, the private market for vaccines is relatively small,” Okafor told Pride Magazine.

With millions of Nigerian children in need of vaccines (from 0 to 59 months up unto the age of five years), any stock out of childhood vaccines may result in a national hazard, since the country is import-dependent on vaccines for immunisation.

Investigations reveal that the cost of developing a vaccine (from research and discovery to testing, gaining regulatory approval, manufacture and product registration)-is estimated to cost between $200 million and $500 million per vaccine.

While requirements for developing vaccines are not so different from the manufacture of other medicines, analysts say that the technology and investment required is higher, as such, only the multinational companies such as GlaxoSmithKline, Novartis, Sanofi Pasteur, Pfizer Inc, have ventured into it.

Under the current business model, prices for vaccines and medicines are based on recouping both Research and Development (R&D) and manufacturing costs. However, some new vaccines are more complicated to produce than older ones, which contribute to their higher cost.

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