Dr. Peter Obi Adigwe is the Director General and Chief Executive Officer of the National Institute for Pharmaceutical Research and Development. In this exclusive interview with Martins Ifijeh he said the Pharma sector has the potential to boost the economy by creating jobs, improve human capital development and increase revenue generation. He also spoke on other sundry issues. Excerpts:
What prospect does the pharmaceutical sector have for the healthcare and economic development of Nigeria?
The Pharmaceutical sector has great potential for both diverse and interrelated sectors. As you are aware, we came up with the medicines’ security concept which says that unless a people exert sufficient control over how their medicines and healthcare commodities are produced, sustainable access to relevant, affordable, high quality products cannot be guaranteed in that setting. In line with this concept, our work is therefore positioned to expedite improved access to healthcare in the nation.
Another critical area where we are focusing our efforts on is ensuring that our research and development initiatives are embedded in governments overarching socioeconomic objectives. As such we are re-engineering our projects to drive key government policies such as job creation, human capital development and revenue generation. The framework we are developing will therefore ensure that the Pharma Sector will not only improve access to health in Nigeria, it will increase other socioeconomic indices, such as employment generation, knowledge transfer, capacity building, attraction of foreign direct investment, and backward integration in ancillary industries.
Is there evidence to support argument for prioritisation of the pharmaceutical sector in Nigeria?
A number of things are happening in Africa which supports my argument for prioritisation of the sector. The continental pharma market is estimated to hit $50 billion per annum in a couple of years. Also, there is an ongoing paradigm shift, meaning that the policy architecture is gradually changing to favor local content development, both in terms of natural resources and human capital. Together, these two factors mean that great opportunities exist for entities with local presence. These, alongside other variables such as our considerable disease burden and high fertility rates, make the African pharma market one that cannot be ignored.
It is therefore important to explore what this scenario portends for the country. Nigeria currently has over 120 manufacturers and 500 importers of pharmaceuticals and related products, who represent a significant proportion of all pharmaceutical companies in Africa. Nigerian pharma companies have also attained the highest standards in products as well as in processes. For instance, four out of 10 companies who have World Health Organisation GMP certification in sub-Saharan Africa are Nigerian companies. Additionally, Nigeria currently has one of the highest populations of professionals with technical capacity in various fields of pharmaceutical development.
It is therefore clear that Nigeria is suitable positioned to emerge as the Pharma sector hub for Africa, and that means the potential to capture a significant proportion of the $50 billion a year market, which will in turn catalyse widespread development even in interrelated sectors. Up until now however, Nigeria has not been harnessing these resources that can position it to capture the continental market. With the framework we are propagating, our preliminary analysis indicates that the Nigerian pharma sector will, in addition to exponentially improving access to medicines, significantly contribute to the national Gross Domestic Product (GDP) as well as provide employment for over one million Nigerians.
What are the challenges affecting prioritisation of the pharmaceutical sector in Nigeria?
Previously, challenges affecting prioritisation of the pharma sector used to be political will, but the current administration has demonstrated through various policies and executive orders that the development of natural resources and local content remains the highest priority. Now what we need to address include getting various actors to understand the benefits of prioritising the sector and getting stakeholders with outlier interests to align with the national position.
Doing this in a timely manner is however of utmost importance as Nigeria’s current vantage position is fast being eroded. Ghana recently passed the Executive Instrument Number 181 ultimately aimed at achieving the same goals, Ethiopia too has just launched a Pharmaceutical Sector Development Plan expected to replicate the success of Ethiopian Airlines’ success story in Aviation.
It is important to note that the framework and strategy we are propagating has been successfully used in other settings. There is international evidence that similar approaches have been used in aggressively developing other pharma sectors, for instance in India, Thailand and Bangladesh. Also, Ethiopia and Rwanda have successfully used the same strategy to respectively develop their aviation and ICT sectors.
What sort of socioeconomic benefits can be associated with the development of the Nigerian pharmaceutical sector?
It is on record that the production of pharmaceuticals is associated with some of the highest value addition chains, in terms of backward integration and ancillary sector development. Empirical evidence exists that suggests that for every job created in the pharmaceutical manufacturing sector, between five to 10 corresponding jobs are created in the wider economy. This makes the pharma sector a powerful tool for stimulating employment generation.
With prioritisation of the sector, the emergent framework would support mergers, acquisitions and partnerships that leverage on the current considerable infrastructure that exists in the sector. The opportunities thus created would generate sizeable interests from new investors as well as other global players in the industry, and consequently attract foreign direct investment to the economy. The framework and consequent recognition of Nigeria as the pharma manufacturing hub can even become a basis for anchoring emergent development initiatives for other sectors.
With respect to backward integration, the prioritisation would further potentiate innovation and research initiatives already being spearheaded by the National Institute for Pharmaceutical Research and Development (NIPRD. For instance, activities on excipients like pharmaceutical grade starch, cellulose and alcohol, which can all be sourced locally from various natural resources, such as cassava and grains. The framework being developed will therefore enable a seamless nexus for these other local industries that provide such input to the Pharmaceutical Industry.
Additionally, activities at the institute aimed at training local people to harness Nigeria’s abundant rich Natural Biodiversity, will be accelerated by the prioritisation of the sector. With the framework in place, targeted activities for the local production of Active Pharmaceutical Ingredients (APIs) from petrochemicals, as well as natural sources, can commence in earnest.
The synergistic contribution of these various aspects of the framework will lead to a systematic expansion of the National economy. Expectedly, this will further boost employment generation, knowledge and technology transfer, revenue generation, export of Nigerian products and many other related socioeconomic indices.
What is the role of NIPRD in formulating development strategy for the pharma sector in Nigeria?
NIPRD is the only one of its kind in the region, and it is statutorily charged with the responsibility for research and development of drugs, vaccines, phytomedicines, commodities, and diagnostics aimed at improving sustainable access to safe, affordable and high quality healthcare. NIPRD also undertakes activities relating to capacity building, policymaking, data collation, drug distribution and the development of contextual partnerships that can expedite access to healthcare.
To accelerate development in the sector, our reengineering strategy has commenced with the aggregation of the relevant data sets as well as exploration of the appropriate engagement models that can support the most efficient and effective transition in our setting. We have also begun working on the identification and classification of relevant stakeholders, as it is of critical importance to partner with parties that have similar goals and objectives, particularly with respect to increasing access to healthcare, as well as ensuring that the reforms are sustainable. Engagement within government as well as with external actors have now commenced as a prelude to the next phase.
In our view that the pharmaceutical sector is suitably positioned for exponential growth which will no doubt translate to increased access to medicines for Nigerians, as well as stimulate development in various sectors within the country. The prioritisation and consequent reengineering of the sector is no doubt the most efficient and effective strategy for achieving this.