The target is ambitious but it is achievable given the facilities for production of generic medicines in the country. That the local pharmaceutical companies meet 97 per cent of the country's need for medicine surely goes to their credit as well as points to their manufacturing capacity. But to lift the production volume to a level where the 2022's export size of medicine worth $189 million can be raised to $1.0 billion to $4.0 billion to $40 billion ---albeit at different stages --- is quite challenging. For its plus point, the country has 213 pharmaceutical companies in operation with a domestic market size of $3.32 billion. What is particularly savouring is the fact that nine companies have already received regulatory approval from highly reputed authorities like MHRA, EU countries, US FDA and WHO PQ. Eleven others are joining the club soon to make a total of 20.
Clearly, there is no question about the performance of the local drug companies as those are capable of producing all types of dosage forms such as tablets, capsules, liquid preparation, dry suspensions, injections, nasal spray and granules in sachets. Also to enhance the capacity for production of active pharmaceutical ingredients (APIs), an API park has been set up in Munshiganj where 27 companies will join the 15 such manufacturing establishments already in operation. Locally produced APIs, raw materials of drugs, are all set to make the already cheaper production cost of medicines further cheaper as well as boost self-sufficiency of the country's pharmaceutical industry. The hope expressed by Abdul Muktadir, chairman and managing director of the Incepta Pharmaceuticals Ltd., while presenting a paper on "Pharmaceutical and healthcare in Bangladesh: Investing for growth, global integration and post-Least Developed Country (LDC) market opportunities" is unlikely to be misplaced. As the title of the subject suggests, it has focused on the prospects of the country's drug industry in a session of the Bangladesh Business Summit 2023 on the concluding day.
All this shows that the country is moving in the right direction to take the pharmaceutical industry to the levels where its expertise is well complemented by the local supply chain of ingredients for drugs. But more will be needed to grab the global market of generic medicines. The existing capacity of the 213 drug companies are not sufficient for turning all of them producers of quality medicines of international standard. Only the leading pharmaceuticals with approval from internationally reputed regulatory authorities can go for export in a big way. Even then they will have to add infrastructural facilities to their existing units if they are serious about seizing even a one per cent share of the global generic medicine market worth $400 billion.
Infrastructural development apart, the industry will have to be considered a thrust sector and given the policy support for its flourishing as a technologically superior sector to garment industry. Thus it stands to diversify the country's export basket. As a specialised sector, it will need highly knowledgeable and skilled manpower. Even then the industry will have to face the challenge of elimination of waivers on patented drugs when it graduates to a developing country. But there will be opportunities as well when drugs worth $150 billion will be off-patented. So, negotiations with the World Trade Organisation (WTO) for extension of waivers on drugs already in the market, on the one hand, and taking advantage of the off-patented medicines, on the other, can help achieve the target envisaged.