Investment in Pharma Industry Strengthens National Security – Anyakora

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Investment in Pharma Industry Strengthens National Security – Anyakora
Prof. Chimezie Anyakora

Bloom Public Health has been in the forefront of championing innovative collaborations aimed at improving quality service delivery within and outside the Nigerian health sector. A reputable technical partner to numerous national and international health-related projects, it is steadily expanding its operations across the African continent. In this exclusive interview with PATRICK IWELUNMOR, the Chief Executive Officer of the company, Professor Chimezie Anyakora, analyses the impact the organisation has made so far, while examining other pertinent issues affecting the Nigerian pharmaceutical industry. Excerpts:

Bloom Public Health has been involved in many health-related projects within and outside Nigeria, as a technical partner. Can you shed more light on some of these projects and the roles you played?

Bloom Public Health is a public health think-tank that is building its reputation as one of the most credible technical partners to health-related innovations within and outside Nigeria. Our projects span majorly four key areas: public health supply chain, pharmaceutical quality systems, laboratory strengthening and diagnostics, and policy for public health.

In the area of laboratory strengthening and diagnostics, Bloom has been in the forefront, strengthening and building capacity in both analytical and diagnostic laboratories across Africa, by forming strategic partnerships and collaborations with internationally reputable organisations with similar goals. We have supported and will continue to support both government and private labs across Africa on their journey to ISO 17025 accreditation.

Bloom Public Health has also excelled in the diagnostic space within Nigeria. A recent achievement is the establishment of Delta Plus Diagnostics, a world-class, fully equipped, and Nigeria Centre for Disease Control (NCDC) recognised molecular laboratory complex in Ogunu, Delta State.

With our technical support, we achieved the establishment of this laboratory and its journey to NCDC optimisation. We currently run a partnership with the Medical Lab Science Council and Nigeria National Accreditation Services to strengthen medical labs across the country.

Bloom Public Health’s interventions extend beyond the analytical and diagnostic space. We are also actively involved in the fight against falsified and substandard medicines in Africa and in ensuring sustainable availability and access to safe, quality, and affordable medicines on the continent. In Nigeria, we have partnered with the University of Michigan in a USAID funded project to carry out a nationwide medicine quality study and also evaluating screening technologies for combating counterfeit drugs.

To achieve our goal of advancing Universal Health Coverage in Nigeria, we recently signed a Memorandum of Agreement (MoA) with the Ebonyi State government, along with our strategic partners (Zipline, Sterling Bank and Healthspaces), to establish a Drug Revolving Fund (DRF) scheme in Ebonyi State. We are establishing an innovative healthcare supply chain system in Ebonyi State that will leverage cutting edge technology to centrally procure, store, manage, and provide last mile distribution of pharmaceutical and other medical products to healthcare facilities across the State. This intervention is already being scaled up in other states.

We have also partnered with Nigeria’s National Institute for Pharmaceutical Research and Development (NIPRD) in a World Bank-funded programme to support selected Nigerian pharmaceutical manufacturers through the process of WHO Prequalification. This will be the biggest pharmaceutical intervention in the country and will be a great model for other African countries. This intervention is unique because for the first time, it will be country-led with a huge patriotic mindset.

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A couple of years ago, we instituted an Africa-wide PIC/S Initiative (AwPI) with the aim of introducing African regulators to the Pharmaceutical Inspection Cooperation Scheme (PIC/S). This process is the fastest route for medicine authorities in Africa to ascend to a stringent regulatory authority status. About twenty five regulators participated and a few of these regulators are currently in an advance stage of PIC/S membership.

You have been an advocate of Nigeria’s self-sufficiency in drug production and distribution. When do you think this tall dream will come to fruition with our overdependence on India and China for APIs?

There is no other path; Africa needs to be self-sufficient in medicine supply. That is the only way to attain medicine security. The recent COVID-19 pandemic has shown how urgent this is. We need to secure our medicine supply chain.

To do this, we need to have the commitment of every stakeholder, including the government, investors, regulators and even the general public because each stakeholder plays a role in actualising this. I must say that we are advancing this discussion and a lot has been happening here.

In Nigeria, there is a possibility of having locally made API soon and many manufacturers are gearing up to increasing their manufacturing capacity. NAFDAC’s 5 + 5 policy will also advance this cause. In other countries, similar decisions are being taken. All in all, I think we are already in the path of a significant progress in self-sufficiency and I hope we continue on this path.

With the recent establishment of the African Pharmaceutical Technology Foundation, an innovative institution that will strengthen Africa’s access to the technologies that support the manufacturing of medicines, vaccines, and other pharmaceutical products, we are very hopeful that self-sufficiency in medicine manufacturing will be greatly advanced.

The APTF, apart from providing funding, will serve as a transparent intermediator, advancing and brokering the interests of Africa’s pharma sector with global pharmaceutical companies to share IP-protected technologies, know-how, and patented processes. This provides a huge opportunity for Nigerian manufacturers. Bloom Public Health hopes to be in the forefront of educating and enlightening Nigerian pharmaceutical manufacturers on the great opportunity this provides.

It is estimated that the global pharma contract manufacturing market will hit 130 billion dollars by 2026. What does this portend for the Nigerian pharma manufacturing industry?

This will put more pressure on Nigeria to continue depending on imported medicines. The bigger the contract manufacturing market the more competitive it is and the more the pressure it puts on local manufacturing because of economy of scale.

But we can also see it as an opportunity because we can play in that market, making Nigeria a contract manufacturing hub to support the rest of Africa. This requires a well thought out, sustained plan to achieve. Already, a few companies are doing contract manufacturing in Nigeria but we need a strong legal framework that will make it work. There is a lot of intellectual property issues that should be protected to make it a win-win for everyone on both sides of the contract.

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What is the state of the Pharma City Project that you collaborated to flag off with NAIP and the Ebonyi State Government?

This is one project that will cause a renaissance in the pharmaceutical sector in Nigeria. It is still going on as scheduled and we are making progress at the right pace. We focused in the last several months on making sure the land is legally secured and all the stakeholders are aligned with us. This required a lot of negotiation and meetings. This is very necessary because we want people’s investment to be secured. Right now, we are set to start some construction of the infrastructure. In the coming months, there will be a lot of awareness creation on the project.

Pharmacity, as the park is called, will be a compact modern-day pharmaceutical industrial estate that brings together pharmaceutical companies of various sizes, service providers, and companies providing support services to co-locate and share infrastructure.

We hope to fully accomplish this in a couple of years, as it is Nigeria’s premier pharmaceutical manufacturing park. Bloom Public Health has continued to champion this project because we believe this will tackle the existing challenges in Nigeria’s pharmaceutical manufacturing sector and revolutionise indigenous drug manufacturing.

Many Nigerian pharma manufacturers are finding it difficult to break even, owing to issues like scarcity of forex and lack of electricity. Would you say pharma manufacturing in Nigeria is living up to its expectation of providing quality medicines to the populace?

Nigeria, as a country, is going through some economic challenges. The situation is affecting all the sectors of the economy, including the pharma sector. But I must commend the patriotism of the major players in the industry who work day and night to ensure that medicines are available to the population.

While the pharma manufacturing industry in Nigeria has made progress over the last decade, despite the numerous challenges confronting the manufacturing landscape in Nigeria, a lot more work still needs to be done to ensure sustainable availability of quality medicines for the populace.

For me, the most critical challenge is manpower. We need to address this urgently. Bloom Public Health is actively working to engage relevant stakeholders and deploy strategic partnerships to address this manpower deficit. Another major challenge is the pharmaceutical support ecosystem. The sector cannot thrive, if the supporting service industry and infrastructure are lacking. Currently, we are depending heavily on support from Asia. We are very committed to contributing our quota in reversing this trend.

What should we be expecting from Bloom Public Health in the nearest future?

So far, Bloom Public Health is fully established in three countries in Africa: Nigeria, Cameroon and Rwanda. In the coming twelve to eighteen months, we hope to have presence in three more countries in Africa to enable us cover effectively the whole of the continent. Bloom Public Health remains committed to creating Africa-driven solutions to solve African public health issues, especially in the pharmaceutical sector.

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The past years have been remarkable. The coming years promise to be even more productive for Bloom Public Health, as we take on ground-breaking and significantly impactful projects across Africa. We have recently expanded our reach in Africa with the establishment of our office in Rwanda and we hope to expand our presence and reach in many other African countries by replicating and scaling up the projects that have shown success in the countries we are currently working in.

Ultimately, at Bloom Public Health, we are different simply because we believe talented Africans need to be on the driver’s seat to solve Africa’s public health challenges. We will scale up success stories of impact across different African countries.

Bloom Public Health will continue to focus on four pillars, with some flexibility: public health supply chain, pharmaceutical quality systems, laboratory strengthening and diagnostics, and policy for public health.

One big continent-wide intervention we are embarking on now is the African Pharmaceutical Academy. This is going to be the third strong continental pharmaceutical support system in Rwanda. Already, African Medicine Agency is established in Rwanda. AfDB also just established African Pharmaceutical Technology Foundation in Rwanda. Our African Pharmaceutical Academy will complement these two.

We are partnering with great institutions across the world to institute a massive workforce development for the continent through this initiative. So far, it is creating a huge excitement and we are expanding our partnership in birthing this great continent wide initiative.

What is your advice to the Nigerian government on how to create the enabling environment for the availability of pharmaceutical raw materials in the country?

I have one advice for  the government. The government needs to understand the importance of medicine security. Nigeria needs to think strategically in developing the sector. There is a need for a strong political will. Currently, we have a lot of talk but no action. They should see the sector not just as private sector businesses but also as a national security investment and see where to support.

The good thing is that Bloom Public Health is working intensely with the government to affect a paradigm shift. Results are still slow in coming but we all need to sustain this push because there is no other way of securing our medicine supply without a strong government support.

There is a company working on the manufacture of API right now and the government should rally support to make it a huge success so that it will encourage other investors.

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