The Daily Star (Lebanon)

Lo­cal drug man­u­fac­tur­ers want boost

- By Vic­to­ria Yan Business · Pharmaceutical Industry · Medications · Pharmacology · Industries · Medicine · Beirut · Lebanon · Tonga · Belgium · Belarus · United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees · Iceland · Austria · research and development

BEIRUT: With phar­ma­ceu­ti­cal con­sump­tion in Le­banon tipped to rise in the next few years, do­mes­tic drug pro­duc­ers are call­ing on the gov­ern­ment to ex­tend sup­port to help a sec­tor that faces sig­nif­i­cant in­ter­na­tional com­pe­ti­tion.

A 2016 Busi­ness Mon­i­tor In­ter­na­tional re­port on the Le­banese phar­ma­ceu­ti­cal and health care in­dus­try stated that 3.22 per­cent of Le­banon GDP spend­ing was likely to be on phar­ma­ceu­ti­cals by 2020 – the “largest” in the MENA re­gion.

The steady in­crease in phar­ma­ceu­ti­cal ex­pen­di­ture has been cred­ited, in part, to the Syr­ian refugee cri­sis. There are 1.01 mil­lion Syr­ian refugees regis­tered with UNHCR, but the gov­ern­ment es­ti­mates the true num­ber to be up­ward of 1.5 mil­lion. With many flee­ing con­flict and liv­ing in im­pov­er­ished con­di­tions, health is­sues are wide­spread.

Although an in­crease in ex­pen­di­ture is the­o­ret­i­cally good news for lo­cal phar­ma­ceu­ti­cal com­pa­nies, Le­banon’s man­u­fac­tur­ers say for­eign drug pro­duc­ers will be the ones to cash in on grow­ing busi­ness.

This is an is­sue In­dus­try Min­is­ter Hus­sein Hajj Hasan has sought to ad­dress. In his re­cently launched “Na­tional Cam­paign to Sup­port Le­banese-made Phar­ma­ceu­ti­cals,” the min­is­ter called on the gov­ern­ment to estab­lish a more bal­anced mar­ket of in­ter­na­tional and do­mes­tic drugs while pro­mot­ing sales over­seas.

“Re­gret­tably, many Arab and for­eign coun­tries make it very dif­fi­cult to reg­is­ter Le­banese-made med­i­ca­tion and drugs. That makes it nearly im­pos­si­ble to ex­port them to these states,” Hajj Hasan said in a speech at the launch ear­lier this month.

“There is noth­ing wrong with the Le­banese-made drugs, be­cause they are thor­oughly tested in our labs be­fore ship­ping them to the mar­kets,” he added.

Ge­orge Sili, pres­i­dent of the Le­banese Or­der of Phar­ma­cists, praised the ini­tia­tive and re­it­er­ated the call to en­force bal­ance in the mar­ket. “Our to­tal share of the mar­ket from drugs we are man­u­fac­tur­ing in Le­banon is only 10 per­cent, while for­eign drugs – es­pe­cially from sur­round­ing coun­tries – are about 90 per­cent,” Sili told The Daily Star. “Why should we ac­cept all the drugs com­ing into our mar­ket if they will not ac­cept ours?”

Such frus­tra­tions are ex­pressed through­out the phar­ma­ceu­ti­cal in­dus­try in Le­banon, com­pounded by the fact that pro­duc­ers say their drugs meet or sur­pass in­ter­na­tional stan­dards. Sili said the sit­u­a­tion was more com­plex than Le­banese prod­ucts sim­ply be­ing dis­crim­i­nated against, and that coun­tries around the world place in­dus­try pro­tec­tions to cre­ate a bal­ance of im­ported and do­mes­tic phar­ma­ceu­ti­cals.

Carol Abi Karam, gen­eral man­ager of Le­banese phar­ma­ceu­ti­cal com­pany Phar­ma­line, said that this was not the case in Le­banon. She said a lack of gov­ern­ment pro­tec­tion com­bined with chal­lenges ex­port­ing was a heavy blow to the lo­cal in­dus­try.

Phar­ma­line, like all Le­banese phar­ma­ceu­ti­cal com­pa­nies, ex­clu­sively pro­duces generic al­ter­na­tives to branded med­i­ca­tion. Re­search and de­vel­op­ment of new drugs can cost mil­lions and take decades, mean­ing Le­banese pro­duc­ers look to man­u­fac­ture drugs un­der li­cense from the de­vel­op­ers – such as phar­ma­ceu­ti­cal gi­ants Glax­oSmithk­line or As­trazeneca.

How­ever, the BMI re­port added that Le­banon was “highly de­pen­dent on high-value im­ported phar­ma­ceu­ti­cals” while generic drugs were “marginal­ized.”

In 2014, for­mer Health Min­is­ter Wael Abu Faour forced down the price of many drugs in Le­banon.

This also hit lo­cal pro­duc­ers who are re­quired by law to of­fer generic drugs cheaper than branded ones.

“By law, [generic drugs] should be 30 per­cent cheaper than the orig­i­nal brand prod­uct. But lately, there has been a huge drop in the prices by orig­i­nal brands. Some have come down by 75 to 80 per­cent,” Abi Karam said.

“Ev­ery­one has to un­der­stand that qual­ity costs. If we don’t grow our mar­ket, how can we de­crease our prices fur­ther and fur­ther?”

How­ever, Abi Karam agreed that pro­tec­tion had to be done care­fully. “[Phar­ma­line] doesn’t want to put bar­ri­ers be­cause we do sup­port our free econ­omy,” Abi Karam said.

“I don’t want to use the term ‘pro­tec­tion’ be­cause pro­tec­tion will not en­cour­age the in­dus­try to de­velop. In­stead, we want the gov­ern­ment to cre­ative in­cen­tive and op­por­tu­nity,” she said, adding that the best way to do this would be a more-bal­anced do­mes­tic- to in­ter­na­tional-drug bal­ance in the coun­try.

In par­al­lel Abi Karam also said the com­pany would look to pro­mote its brand and tar­get doc­tors and phar­ma­cists who dis­pense med­i­ca­tion.

How­ever, not all sup­port the in­dus­try min­is­ter’s plan.

Ray­mond Sayegh, pres­i­dent of the Or­der of Physi­cians, was more crit­i­cal as he told The Daily Star that the fact Le­banon only makes generic drugs means the coun­try is re­liant on for­eign med­i­ca­tions.

“The Le­banese in­dus­try is a generic in­dus­try, which means we re­pro­duce drugs five years [af­ter they launch] when we have the rights,” he said of the time be­tween a drug launch­ing and generic li­censes be­ing is­sued. “We will not ac­cept be­ing [forced] into a mar­ket that is de­layed ... we need to give our pa­tients what they need.”

While Sayegh ex­pressed sym­pa­thy for the strug­gling phar­ma­ceu­ti­cal in­dus­try in Le­banon, he also noted that the Or­der of Physi­cians could not sup­port the de­mands of the phar­ma­ceu­ti­cal in­dus­try that he said was cre­at­ing a “care­less mar­ket.” “The mar­ket may be un­bal­anced and I know they have eco­nomic is­sues,” Sayegh said. “[How­ever,] we, as the doc­tors and the Le­banese Or­der of Physi­cians, [pri­or­i­tize] our pa­tients.”

 ??  ?? Le­banon’s man­u­fac­tur­ers say for­eign drug pro­duc­ers will be the ones to cash in on grow­ing busi­ness.
Le­banon’s man­u­fac­tur­ers say for­eign drug pro­duc­ers will be the ones to cash in on grow­ing busi­ness.

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