Prof Chimezie Anyakora is a pharmaceutical chemist and Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of Bloom Public Health. Anyakora, who was the Chief of Party of Promoting the Quality of Medicines Programme (PQM) of the United States Pharmacopeia Convention (USP) in Nigeria, in this interview with CHUKWUMA MUANYA, made recommendations on how Nigeria could boost local manufacture of drugs as well as stem fake and substandard medicines.
How far with efforts to boost local manufacture of drugs?
Pharmacity is one of the solutions. Pharmacy is the initiative of the Association of the Industrial Pharmacists of Nigeria in partnership with Bloom Public Health. The Pharmacy is a concept that we think will transform the pharmaceutical sector in Nigeria. The idea is to have many pharmaceutical manufacturing companies and other support service companies in a location that is well serviced to promote quality manufacturing of medicines. Before I talk more about Pharmacy, let me give you a background on the pharmaceutical sector in Nigeria.
Nigeria is highly import-dependent when it comes to finished pharmaceutical products. Some statistics put it at 70 per cent or more. Also, Nigeria is 100 per cent dependent on other countries for active pharmaceutical ingredients, which are needed for the manufacture of these medicines. We also depend heavily on other countries for expertise required and many other skilled support services in the pharmaceutical sector. This is not a good situation to be in.
The COVID-19 pandemic has also made it even much clearer why we should make an effort to change the status quo. Another interesting scenario is that currently, hundreds of millions of dollars spent yearly by donors on medicine for use in Nigeria are procured from foreign countries. The reason for this is the perception that most local manufacturers cannot manufacture good quality medicines. This is not entirely correct, because there are over 160 manufacturers in Nigeria; among them are some world-class manufacturers.
To change these situations, something drastic needs to be done. That is why the pharmacy concept is an idea whose time has come. It will be a catalyst for great development in the sector. Firstly it will stimulate the creation of various value-adding activities in the pharmaceutical sector. Secondly, because of shared infrastructure and services, the cost of production will drop significantly. Lastly, this will be an opportunity for great economic growth. The dependence on importation will be reduced. The procurement of medicines by donor agencies from Nigeria will be a reality since any manufacturer setting up at the park will be supported to have a current Good Manufacturing Practice (GMP) compliant facility that can compare with any facility across the world.
So what is Bloom Public Health’s involvement in this project?
As I mentioned earlier, we are driving this initiative in partnership with the Association of the Industrial Pharmacists of Nigeria. The partnership is also working with other stakeholders to make this project a reality. We have been on this for a while. Slowly and steadily putting together the strategy, which is very important. At this stage, I will say that we are ready to get other stakeholders involved in actualizing it.
Who are the other stakeholders?
This project is a national development project using the pharmaceutical sector as a vehicle. The host community and the host state are great partners to this project. It will transform the economic landscape of the host state. We are estimating several thousands of direct jobs and many more indirect jobs and of course, this park will inspire several small businesses. The academia will be a strong stakeholder. We expect to have a strong interaction between academia and the industry in the park. There are many schools of pharmacy, faculties of engineering, and faculties of sciences across the country that will be motivated to engage in value-adding research to support various activities going on in the park. We also expect to have various research institutes take advantage of the park. For example, this will showcase the great work done in NIPRD because they will have the opportunity to support the industry even more. Another great research institute that can feature well in the pharmacy is the Federal Institute of Industrial Research. This institute can support the pharmaceutical sector much better by interacting and providing solutions to the needs of pharmaceutical excipients like pharmaceutical grade starch and other needs. The Raw Material Research and Development Agency can also play a role. As you can see, the pharmacy dream is a big one that can impact heavily on the science done in this country and also motivate more research.
How will it affect research?
The Park will be a platform that will enable ideas to flow. We also expect a lot of technology transfer and innovation from Nigerian scientists both in the diaspora and at home. Yes, we are hoping to have lots of reverse brain drain. There are many Nigerian experts in the pharmaceutical sector across the world that has been looking for a credible platform to bring back their skills. This park will give them that incentive to do so. We also hope to have Nigerians look inward to see how we can contribute to the global pharmaceutical pool of experts. Already many Nigerians in the diaspora are so tuned to this project and they cannot wait to contribute. The Nigerian Association of Pharmacists and Pharmaceutical Scientists in America is a great part of this project too and will deploy a pool of experts of Nigerian origin to support this dream.
How does this support the effort to respond to the COVID-19 pandemic?
COVID-19 has become a great motivator for this project. It has made everyone see the great need for medicine security and we can only survive if we are able to provide the needed medicines for our population. With Pharmacy, Nigeria will be able to contribute its quota in providing solutions to any future pandemic should it occur again. We have done very little this time around but we hope to be ready for the future. We hope this dream will support not just Nigeria but Africa as a whole.
Where is this park located?
The long-term goal is to have pharmaceutical parks across the country. Currently, we have three strong contenders to host the first one. The decision on the exact site will be made in a few weeks. We also hope to start the project in the second quarter of this year and in the coming weeks a lot of information will be coming out. We hope this is the game changer and everyone can find a role to play in making this reality. It will make the nation proud again. It will stimulate ingenuity and entrepreneurship and unleash unprecedented economic growth. The contribution of the pharmaceutical sector to the GDP of Nigeria is still very low compared with many countries. We hope this project changes it.