Sygen Pharmaceutical is a new entrant into the Nigerian pharmaceutical space. Established in 2019, after a successful acquisition of the assets and brands of Nigerian-German Chemicals Plc, the company is promising a world-class outlook in terms of personnel and product offering. In this exclusive interview with PATRICK IWELUNMOR, the CEO, Mr Charles Ogunwuyi, a multi-sectoral experienced business transformation and general management professional, shares his views and ideas on how Sygen hopes to make a difference in the Nigerian pharma landscape. Excerpts:
As the CEO of Sygen Pharma, can you tell us more about the company?
The company was established in March 2019 with the primary purpose of contributing towards build Nigeria’s capability in the pharmaceutical space. There is a huge drug manufacturing capability gap not only in Nigeria but in Africa as a whole when compared to other emerging markets or even continents. We decided not to come into market like most traditional new entrants who are typically import focused. We have entered the market with a social purpose-perspective. With that purpose in mind, we were committed to look for a manufacturing asset to acquire. The right opportunity came about in December of 2019 when we acquired the physical and brand assets of Nigerian-German Chemicals Plc. Though NGC is still operating under receivership, Sygen Pharmaceutical Ltd is an independent entity and not related to NGC in anyway.
In a nutshell, kindly state the vision driving the operations of Sygen in Nigeria.
As mentioned earlier, we envisage a Nigeria with world class drug manufacturing capabilities and adequate capacity to support the region. Our goal is to contribute our quota towards the collective vision of building up the local manufacturing capacity of the pharmaceutical industry in Nigeria. The manufacturing capability that Nigeria has today is very low compared to its population and the sector is heavily import-driven. We could have stuck to status-quo and just import contract manufactured drugs but we know that for the growth and development of the nation and the industry, we had to think differently. We cannot continue to depend on the US, the UK, China, or India for all of our drug manufacturing needs, but have to drive for self-sustenance at some point and take control of our own destiny as nation.
As you are not a medical professional in terms of training or career, how did you get into this industry?
I have always been entrepreneurial from a young age and as I got into the corporate world, always had a passion for working in industries or businesses that would have a positive impact on the economy. I see the health care sector as a space where one could make the right kind of societal impact. I believe my interest in the health care sector was probably piqued when I was very young and would go to work with my father who worked at LUTH and subsequently in my university days when I would intern at Pfizer every summer during the holidays. My background and work experiences over the past 25+ years is quite varied and has successfully covered multiple sectors across various continents. Putting it simply, I will characterize it as general management professional with an interesting blend of business transformation, commercial operations and investment management. I have worked in the automotive sector with Ford Motor Company in the US, Europe and South-East Asia. I have also worked in the FMCG industry with Diageo PLC and in the Telecommunications sector with Etisalat. More recently, I was in the private equity industry with Coronation Capital. Establishing Sygen Pharma, which is derived from “science for generations” is the social impact and legacy phase of my career and I am looking forward to leveraging my past experiences towards contributing our own quota to the development of our country.
How do you hope to make a strong statement in the highly competitive Nigerian pharma market?
Our mission is to develop and create access to high quality medicines that yield successful outcomes and improve the quality of life of patients in the communities that we operate in. This is what guides us daily. We are unrelenting on our quest to develop and manufacture high quality medicines towards helping people to live healthy lives and to thrive as a community. The quality of our medicine will definitely set us apart and the impact of our contribution towards enabling a healthy population which is critical for the development and growth our economy will be well noted.
Does Sygen Pharma specialize in any niche, in terms of its product offerings?
There is no niche as such but our priority therapy areas are in pain management, maternal and child health, pulmonary, chronic diseases such as hypertension and diabetes which have become prevalent in our environment. We are also gradually expanding our anti-infective portfolio. We have a couple of anti-infective products and we hope to expand in that area as well. We hope to ensure that people are thriving and that we are preventing them from diseases. Our product portfolio includes well-known medicines including Daga, Abidec, Glanil, NGC Expectorant, NGC Children, Broncholyte, Valgin, Tabalon, Metronidazole, and Colipan.
Most Nigerian pharmaceutical companies depend on contract manufacturing. What do you think is militating against such companies’ plans to set up their own factories?
We have a very challenging manufacturing environment in Nigeria and we still have a long way to go in making it easy to do business in our environment. There have been some good policies and incentives in this area by government but the government must take a much broader and wholistic approach to the issue of developing local capability. It must also have the right resolve to follow through in implementing the right kind of broad reforms that will catalyze the development of our own drug manufacturing capabilities. Power is still a major issue as well as access to the right kind of funding for the build out of a greenfield plant. You also have the cost of funding your working capital to the operate such a venture. The government has some great initiatives. Through our bank we were able access one of the initiatives of the bank of industry (BOI) program. The BOI have consistently assisted quite a number of organisations in the manufacturing industry. In addition, with the assistance of our bank, we were able to leverage the healthcare intervention fund of the CBN. These loans have gone a long way in helping to upgrade our manufacturing equipment as well improve our manufacturing capacity and bring up our operation to global standards.
Every Nigerian pharma manufacturing company claims to be serving the public good by ensuring the availability of quality medicines, even in the face of obvious challenges such as the dependence on India and China for raw materials. How do you think stakeholders can rethink this dependence and seek homegrown solutions?
To reiterate, the problem can be solved with the right policy framework and incentives for the creation of an enabling drug manufacturing value chain environment. There are no major gains in local manufacturing of raw materials unless it is done at a large scale, at the moment most of economic benefit comes from the manufacture of the final branded product. Until we have a concerted effort by the government and industry to try and look at capability gaps within the drug manufacturing value chain and put in place this kind of policies that will encourage raw material manufacturing, things will remain the way they are.
We must look at the drug manufacturing value chain holistically, starting with the Active Pharmaceutical Ingredients (APIs). The most transformational lever from broadening access to affordable drugs for Nigeria and Africa is the manufacture of the APIs. We need some local manufacturing incentives in this area. Another important step will be greater collaboration between organizations in the value chain, as this will help develop our local manufacturing industry and keep products more affordable for the patients.
What are your sincere projections for the Nigerian pharmaceutical industry in 2023?
Growth-wise, the industry has done well even in the last year, despite the challenging atmosphere. I think the industry will not shrink despite the macro challenge facing the Nigerian economy. I see single digit growth in the short-term. This is because people will continue to buy drugs whenever they fall ill regardless of the tough economic situation. Those of us who are a part of the Manufacturers’ Association of Nigeria (MAN) will face challenges because of the rising input costs as well as other associated expenses of operating a business and maintaining machinery in Nigeria today. Nevertheless, despite any obstacle, Sygen is here to stay because we are committed to ensuring healthier lives for our communities.
Can you share a word for Nigerian pharmaceutical companies that are grappling with high operational costs coupled with unabating inflationary trends?
At Sygen, we are always looking at creative ways to manage cost and make the drugs affordable for our patients. We are doing this by consistently squeezing out the inefficiencies in our own system. We are new and are learning from those who came before us and those who came after. As an organisation in the healthcare sector, you have to find that intersection between profit and purpose. You have to believe that you can do well by doing good. Nigerians should look forward to seeing a differentiated company in Sygen pharma. We are building a healthcare organisation for generations to come.