Pushing pharmaceutical export frontier

Published: February 18, 2019 22:14:10 | Updated: February 20, 2019 22:11:47

The pharmaceutical sector faces a redefining and reinventing moment. Protected by the Drug Control Ordinance, 1982 which banned the sale of imported pharmaceutical products and aided by  an intellectual rights waiver enabling local industry to offer generic life-saving   medicines at  affordable  prices, the  country's  pharmaceutical sector  gets to  meet 97 per cent  demand of the  domestic drug market. Apparently, content and sustained with such a  domestic  market-base, the sector's export performance   cuts a sorry figure. This hovers around US$ 100 million only while ready-made garment (RMG) netted US$ 30.16 billion in the last fiscal year. In fact the pharmaceuticals'    share is only 0.3 per cent of Bangladesh's total export, and the least said about its global share, the better! A strange mix of inelastic mindset, perpetuation of fundamental structural bottlenecks and lack of timely initiative to overcome them came in the way of the sector's export growth. The potential is, however, enormous; the US has a market for US$ 500 billion worth of generic medicine of which if at least five to ten per cent were secured by Bangladesh, it would be a huge earning for it. With Myanmar and Sri Lanka comprising 30 per cent of Bangladesh's export, the country's limitations to make forays into high-end   value-driven markets are starkly exposed.

The problem areas remain identified; what is needed now is  a composite action plan  to  remove the inhibiting factors, acquire skill sets to diversify  production line and go meet the demands of  semi-regulated markets  first, and then venture out  into  bigger  regulated markets. The key obstacle is the lack of a strong backward linkage industry including the Active Pharmaceutical Ingredients, API industry for short, in the country. The critical dependence on import of API from China and India 'for formulating our products' is ironic in   that Bangladesh  is reliant   on  its  competitors  for raw material or 'formulary' which does not fit in with the  desire to  shape up  as   a global  player in  near future. It is worthwhile to note though, the country's first API industry is  being set up in Munshiganj; but it took one and a half decades for the government to make the move.

Want of adequate  testing  facilities, especially   absence of a Bio-equivalence Centre  is considered a major impediment  to the growth  of pharmaceutical export. Bio-equivalence studies    are key to entering the   regulated  developed  countries. In the absence of  testing facilities in the country, bio-equivalence  studies will have to be conducted   abroad  at great expense of  money and time. If,  as the Directorate General of Drug Administration says,  WHO has   given green signal to  five entities  to set up bio-equivalence centres, the stakeholders here   would like to  know a definitive timeframe in regard to their installation.

The experts' insistence on enhancing  capacity of local manpower and increased investment in research and development (R&D) to inject further value addition to  the local pharma products  needs to be heeded by  all concerned. Pharmaceuticals being a knowledge-based industry, the entrepreneurs should be well aware of the necessity for research and development; the captains of the industry must lead the way. It is an excellent idea to associate non-resident Bangladeshi human resource with the projects but to all intents and purposes, the capacity of local formulators will have to be enhanced. It is encouraging to note that private universities are turning out pharmacy graduates in  quite a good number every year. 

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