Technology Transfer Provides Benefits for African Pharmaceutical Industry
Several months after BioNTech, a German biotechnology firm, announced the establishment of Rwanda’s first-ever local vaccine manufacturing plant in Rwanda. Experts believe countries will need to acquire the necessary know-how and support potential industrial partners in the pharmaceutical sector in order for such initiatives to be successful across the continent.
Experts emphasise the need to prioritise technology transfer to revamp Africa’s pharmaceutical industry with a key focus on vaccine manufacturing capacity and building quality healthcare infrastructure.
This is because although pharmaceutical products are made in countries like South Africa, Kenya and Morocco, the most recent estimates by the World Health Organization (WHO) shows that Africa imports more than 80 per cent of its medical and pharmaceutical consumables.
Experts discussed the challenges and opportunities for improving the health prospects of Africa’s continent, which has been ravaged by several pandemics and diseases, including COVID-19. The continent also has very limited production capacity, making it difficult to produce medicines and vaccines.
Participants in the forum, which was primarily focused on operationalizing the first-ever African Pharmaceutical Technology Foundation, discussed how the African Union could achieve its goal of having 60% of the vaccines needed on the continent by 2030.
Although the continent imports more 70% of all the medicines it requires, consuming $14 Billion annually, Dr Yvan Yetera, Rwandan Minister in the Ministry of Health, stressed the need for additional financial resources to be available to African countries that most need them to procure vaccine.
“The new initiative comes as a solution since most of [African] countries still face a challenge in receiving them on time,” the senior Rwandan Government official told the forum.
Experts argue that there is a pressing need to coordinate efforts to promote technology transfer as a result of current efforts to expand production of essential pharmaceutical items, including vaccines, in developing nations, especially Africa. Official estimates suggest that Africa imports more then 70% of all medicines it needs, and consumes $14 billion annually.
Professor Padmashree Gehi Sampath is the Special Adviser to President on Pharmaceuticals and Health. African Development BankHarvard University’s Director of Global Access in Action told delegates that technology transfer was critical and that the new initiative will assist African countries in assessing their technology needs.
“Most pharmaceutical companies in Africa are using different kinds of technology (…) it is important to boost their capacity, which has been hampered by intellectual property rights protection and patents on technologies, know-how, manufacturing processes and trade secrets,” the senior bank official told IPS.
Yet Africa’s public health challenges are well known; some experts believe that enhancing access to these technologies for pharmaceutical companies is critical to addressing numerous challenges facing the continent’s pharmaceutical industry.
Dr Hanan Bukhy, Deputy Director General of the World Health Organization (WHO), says that there are many challenges facing the continent before it can produce medicines.
“Africa suffers from the repetitive occurrence of preventable diseases and epidemics, and the large part of medicines and vaccines to treat or prevent these diseases are imported from outside the continent,” Balkhy told delegates.
The bank approved the African Pharmaceutical Technology Foundation. Once fully established, it will be staffed and staffed with top-notch experts in the areas of pharmaceutical innovation and design, intellectual property rights, health policy, and healthcare policy.
The foundation is also a transparent intermediary that promotes and brokers the interests African pharmaceutical companies with global and other Southern pharmaceutical companies to share IP protected technologies, know-how, and patented processes.
Dr Precious Matsoso, co-chair of an international negotiating body of WHO on Pandemic Prevention, Preparedness, and Response, stressed that it is important to ensure that the African health system remains resilient.
“Establishing the African Pharmaceutical Technology Foundation, by the bank, is a milestone to address these barriers we are facing, such as health equity,” she said.
The foundation will be established under the auspices African Development Bank. However it will operate independently and raise money from various stakeholders, such as governments and development finance institutions.
Dr Richard Hatchett is the Chief Executive Officer of The Coalition of Epidemic Preparedness Initiative (CEPI)According to delegates, he said that the foundation was established in a timely manner because Africa must learn from the pandemic. This can be an important step towards building resilience of its health system.
“These health care innovative solutions will help in saving lives on the continent,” he said.
Rwanda has been selected as the African Pharmaceutical Technology Foundation’s host. The foundation will be a joint benefits entity and will have its own governance structures and operational structures. It will also broker alliances between African and African pharmaceutical companies.
Experts also stressed the importance of prioritizing the African patent pharmaceutical industry in order to successfully implement the new initiative.
Professor Carlos Correa, Executive Director, South Centre, Geneva, said that it was crucial for the region have their own framework.
“Manufacturing capacity [in Africa] is there, but technology capacity is crucial to develop vaccines for Africa (….) Timely transfer of technology is also important,” he said.
Several panellists stressed that African pharmaceutical companies must partner with counterparts from Europe and other continents during the forum.
Brigit Pickel, Director-General for Africa in the Germany Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and DevelopmentThis partnership is vital for vaccine manufacturing. It also applies to the supply and production of other pharmaceutical products.
“We recognise the importance of promoting local pharmaceutical products across the value chain in Africa,” she said.
Apart from technology transfer Professor Fredrick Abbott, Edward Ball Eminent scholar Professor, Florida State University, USA, stated that this initiative can’t work without sustainable funding.
“Countries need to develop domestic resources because providing funding is a critical step to ensure the continuity of promising clinical development programs of vaccines and drugs,” Abbott told IPS.
IPS UN Bureau Report