As the Nigerian economy continues its wobbly run, players in the pharmaceutical industry have been urged to consider merger, acquisition, and consolidation, as well as increased exportation, in order to survive the economic challenges.
The recommendations came as industry stakeholders converged for the maiden edition of the Biennial Lecture Series of the Association of Industrial Pharmacists of Nigeria (NAIP). This year’s edition had the theme, “Dwindling Economy: What’s Next for the Pharmaceutical Industry in Nigeria?”
Speaking at the event, former Minister of Health, Prince Julius Adelusi-Adeluyi, who was the chairman of the occasion, noted that the question of what is next for the pharmaceutical industry in Nigeria had been on the front burner for a long time, adding that the present concern is a refreshing visit to the perennial problem in the industry.
Adelusi-Adeluyi, who is the founder of Juli Pharmacy, stated that he has always had a sense of duty towards the success of Pharmacy in Nigeria, not just at the industrial level but also at the retail level, adding that he has confidence in the continued success of Pharmacy in Nigeria.
The chairman pointed out that to survive the dwindling economy, stakeholders must know that there are opportunities in the challenges confronting the nation. This, according to him, requires identifying these opportunities, rather than worrying about the challenges.
He also called for concerted efforts in redefining strategies for local manufacturing. According to him, “We also have to redefine and reformulate appropriate measures that will enhance the industry to thrive in the face of the dwindling economy. There is more to Pharmacy than pharmacists, just as there is more to banking than bankers.
“There is also more to Law than lawyers, and there is equally more to Medicine than doctors. So, we must no longer work in silos as a professional group; we must network with the kind of Act we now have and make sure we do every necessary thing that we need to do to actualize our vision through networking.
“I also want to say to all pharmacists in Nigeria, that we must all have a positive mindset toward the practice of this profession. No profession is easy. To be a millionaire, you must think like a millionaire; to be a successful pharmacist, you begin to think like one. When you are looking for something, you will get it. If you want to sing, you can always get a song to sing. Whatever that needs to be done should be done.”
On his part, the President, of the Pharmaceutical Society of Nigeria (PSN), Prof. Cyril Usifoh, said various industries are currently passing through a lot of difficulties, including the pharmaceutical industry. He, however, added that, despite the challenges, there is no place like home.
Usifoh, therefore, called for urgent support for local drug manufacturers to ensure that quality, locally-made drugs are available in Nigeria at affordable rates. He also reiterated the need for strong networking to get the industry to its peak.
The Registrar, Pharmacists Council of Nigeria (PCN), Pharm. Babashehu Ahmed, who was represented by Dr Taiwo Fulesi, expressed optimism that with the concerted effort of all stakeholders, the pharma industry will eventually overcome the hurdles of local production of active pharmaceutical ingredients (API), adding that the recently signed Pharmacy Act should be explored to promote the industrial sector of the pharma industry.
The Director General of, the National Agency for Food and Drug Administration and Control (NAFDAC), Prof. Mojisola Adeyeye, who was represented by Mr. Samson Fatoke, admitted that the pharma industry is currently facing serious economic difficulties, urging stakeholders to collaborate towards its continued survival.
In his words, “Even in the regulatory sphere, we also acknowledge that there is an economic challenge, and as a result of this, in recent times, a lot of policies have been formulated towards the local industry.
“As regulators, we feel what the local manufacturers are feeling; we are doing everything possible to ensure that the local industry thrives. Though the challenges are multifaceted, from the regulatory perspective, we will keep on doing what we need to do, interacting with the stakeholders. The door is also always open for all stakeholders to continually engage the agency.”
Earlier on, the Chairman of NAIP, Pharm. Ken Onuegbu, explained that the lecture was to enable stakeholders to discuss and fashion out realistic ways to deal with contemporary issues facing industrial pharmacy and the nation generally. He noted that, though the Nigerian economy is facing a difficult time, the challenges are not peculiar to the country, adding that there is always a solution to every challenge.
Onuegbu averred that players in the industry must reflect on how the cost of operation can be reduced, while also scaling up the effectiveness of the operation team.
He also called on industry players to consciously adopt a survival strategy to survive the nation’s current economic turbulence, stressing that the present challenges are temporary.
The keynote speaker at the event, Mr. Roosevelt Ogbonna, managing director, of Access Bank PLC, who was represented by, Mrs. Chizoma Okoli, the deputy managing director, stated that there are always opportunities in adversities, which should inspire hope in the Nigerian situation. He, therefore, charged stakeholders in the industry to collaborate, consider merger and acquisition, and as well be committed to research and development.
Ogbonna said despite the current challenges, neither the country nor the pharma industry has to be shut down. “The industry has to be resilient. Every industry is suffering now. The pharmaceutical industry is suffering but we must be resilient,” he said.
He disclosed that Nigeria spent over 43 billion on the importation of antimalarial drugs in the last quarter of 2021, noting that the outbreak of COVID-19 in 2020 exposed the inadequate capacity of local drug production in Nigeria. He added that the pharma industry is now going towards repacking rather than production.
“Many people in the industry are saying why do I stress myself to produce when it is more convenient to import and repack? But such development will never help the pharma industry,” Ogbonna warned.
The speaker pointed out that the unavailability of API exposes the industry to the pressure of foreign exchange (forex) and importation, adding that the industry is doing relatively low in the area of research and development, with little or no infrastructure to support production.
He however added that despite the challenges, there will always be a way forward. He stressed that government and other stakeholders must identify factors that will drive the growth of the industry, while also addressing its challenges.
Ogbonna said one of the most important areas of focus for the industry to thrive is the local production of drugs for exportation. This, he said, will provide foreign exchange, the insufficiency of which is currently considered to be the major bane of manufacturing companies in Nigeria.
“There is opportunity in adversity. There is opportunity in every challenge; so the pharma industry needs to find the available opportunity in the current dwindling economy so that the industry can grow. Remaining stagnant and relying solely on the support from other industries will not do the industry any good,” he said.
While calling on players in the industry to leverage its opportunities, he noted that trends in the banking sector have proved that merger and acquisition can prove to be the needed survival strategy.
He said: “going by the current state of the pharmaceutical industry, it is important to consider merger, acquisition, and consolidation to equip and strengthen the capacity of the industry to boost local production and supply of pharmaceutical products. This will help the industry to grow and compete globally. This must be the focus of the industry.
“The industry needs to compete globally, but it will not be possible unless the players come together to strengthen their capacity. I agree that the government needs to do more to generate foreign exchange through economic diversification, provision of a secure and safe business environment; financial support through interventions, among others. However, local manufacturers must do their part.
“There is a need to form formidable corporations in the industry by leveraging respective strengths and advantages towards a good market share because 10 percent of 1000 is better than 100 percent of 10. This is the way to go. When you come together, you will gain more and be able to dictate your terms for the industry; but to be in a different unit struggling for foreign exchange will not help the industry.”
Ogbonna also harped on the need to prioritize research and development by committing more funds to it.
He said, “API can be sourced locally through quality research and development, Africa can be a hub for API and Nigeria can be the hub that supplies API to other African countries. You can create that. We need to work towards it. It has to be a deliberate partnership between local and multinational companies.
“Stakeholders in the industry should set up foreign alliances and subsidiaries. This will ensure technology transfer from developed countries to Nigeria, reduce production costs and increase margins. Research and development are therefore very important.
“Also, you need to be deliberate about export. So, production should be prioritized. And as a matter of fact, this is one of the things you need to do very urgently. The Central Bank of Nigeria has been supporting exports; so the pharmaceutical industry needs to start thinking about it this will ensure your export earnings and then cushion the effect of your importation and reduce the impact of fluctuation of foreign exchange in your business.
“While some companies are focusing on the importation, those in manufacturing who are able to create their own FX potential will thrive; those that are importing will then begin to think of manufacturing, which will bring about a bigger pharma industry that can now compete globally.”
He also urged players in the industry to be well-grounded in corporate governance, so as to attract investors. He challenged the leaders in the industry to put measures in place and lead the industry out of the current economic crunch.
In his words, “The biggest of my recommendations is merger and acquisition, hence I want to re-emphasize that you need to look at it critically because if you wait and say the government has not done its own part, you can’t achieve the mileage the industry deserves. You need collaboration and strong ties among you. I am sure all these will be game-changer for the industry if you look at it because they will increase the industry’s capacity to compete at the global level and also increase the availability of FX. The regulators and the industry need to commit to revamping the sector, and increasing production capacity, while also supporting the government’s quest for economic recovery.”
While speaking at the plenary session, moderated by the Managing Director of Neimeth International Pharmaceuticals Plc, Pharm. Matthew Azoji, the Managing Director of May & Baker PLC, Patrick Ajah, noted that the way goes for the industry to thrive in the current dwindling economy is to collaborate, adding that local contract manufacturing should be at the forefront.
He said, “Let us collaborate to manufacture locally. With the problem of forex, local manufacturing is the way to go. Rather than individually bringing two containers of imported drugs, we can use the money to import several containers of API to produce locally and then export as well.
“If price is the reason many people are not willing to produce locally, let us discuss and reach a win-win agreement. If we can concentrate on local contract manufacturing, fewer people will go and queue in the bank for forex. Those importing finished products should shift attention from abroad to local contract manufacturing.”
NAIP also used the occasion to inaugurate members of its Board of Trustees, with Prof. Lere Baale as its chairman. The association also recognized some personalities in the industry with various awards. The Chairman/Founder, Juhel Pharma Nigeria Limited, Pharm. (Dr) Ifeanyi Okoye, bagged the association’s Icon of Pharmacy Award. Pharm. Igwe Alexander Uzo Onyido and the Senior Vice President for West Africa, Integrated Commercial Solution Worldwide Healthcare Limited, Mr. Santosh Kumar, bagged NAIP Outstanding Leadership Award.
Also, the Managing Director, Embassy Pharmaceuticals Limited, Pharm. Nnamdi Obi and the immediate past Chairman of NAIP, Pharm. Ignatius Anukwu was honored with the Distinguished Service Award. In the same vein, the Managing Director, Miraflash Nigeria Limited, Pharm. Moses Olurotimi Oluwalade and the Managing Director, Megachem Nigeria Limited, Pharm. Sam Ubachukwu bagged the NAIP Eminent Person Award.