The first East Africa Pharma and Biotech Conference has opened in Kigali, with Rwanda getting new investment opportunities in the pharmaceuticals and vaccines manufacturing industry.
The two-day conference which opened June 13, 2023, is aimed at mapping the way forward on vaccine and pharmaceutical manufacturing in the region following Rwanda being chosen as the central country where the first mRNA vaccine plant on the continent is expected to be constructed.
Yvan Butera, the State Minister of Health thanked partners for their continued support to ensure this happens in Rwanda and called for collaboration in addressing the anticipated challenges which include infrastructure, financing, technical know-how, capacity, and scientific evidence-based research.
Butera said that Rwanda plans on starting manufacturing pharmaceuticals and vaccines by the end of the year and the conference is very timely and of high importance to tackle a pressing need faced in Africa – building capacity to manufacture medical products to address healthcare needs.
The conference saw two international biotech companies commit to investing in Rwanda.
These include UVU Bio, a South African-based company that specializes in biotech technology and the bio-economy ecosystem enabler dealing in incubation acceleration across Africa.
UVU signed a memorandum of understanding with Rwanda to set up the second open access lab (worth between €2-5Million) after the first one in Cape Town, to support startups in the industry to use high-end tech in research, capacity building, skills development, and addressing challenges of accessing a range of high-lab equipment to do research at the university which is one of the big gaps facing the industry.
Deepak Maharajh, the UVU Bio Executive Director said this will help in the incubation and acceleration of the Rwandan workforce, following the entry of BioNTech in Rwanda.
The other company was Zodel Biotec- a sister company of Tecan- a leading global supplier of laboratory automation products and diagnostics applications that will focus on safe diagnostics using cutting-edge lab spaces and equipment, especially in TB and Cancer research.
Early experiences from the industry in Rwanda show that about five companies have already decided to establish their business in Rwanda and in sharing their experiences regarding challenges and possible solutions.
Akagera Medicines, a Rwanda company (62% owned by Rwanda Social Security Board- RSSB) founded in 2018 and incorporated as a Delaware corporation, has laboratories in Boston and San Francisco and has since 2022 opened its 100% owned subsidiary in Kigali to do manufacturing and clinical trials in the future.
Michael Fairbanks, the Akagera Medicines Chairman Board of Directors said that so far they have invested $16million in the last four years, to start producing meds for TB, HIV, and Lassa fever, and the plan for producing medication that can go to as low as $5.
Dr. A A Faruque, the founding partner and Managing Director of Apex Biotech, a Bangladeshi investor and Rwanda’s first-ever Pharmaceutical Industry; said their commitment is to bring excellence and innovation to the healthcare landscape in Rwanda through investments and expertise but also explained why in Rwanda.
Dr. Faruque said that once they commence commercial production, the Apex plant will generate around 200 jobs on a single shift, contributing to the local economy and providing employment opportunities to Rwandan citizens and envision exporting pharmaceutical products worth millions of dollars to regional markets, including Central and West African countries.
The CDC also shows that 99% of vaccines are imported and the vaccines market is publicly driven and supply is concentrated to a small number of importers though the continent has a potential market (as of 2022) of ~$30 billion in Africa across health products (vaccines, therapeutics, diagnostics, etc.)
The East African market alone presents a market size of around $6 billion in 2023 and the CDC shows that Kenya has the biggest imports $557 followed by Tanzania $384, Uganda $300m, Rwanda $79, Burundi $53m and the least is South Sudan with $16 million.
To bridge these gaps, Masha Klein, the BioNTech Director of Modular Manufacturing Platform said that it was important to start producing in Africa to cut costs and this has been considered with the opportunities in Rwanda, as supportive to build a big manufacturing plant and the first investment in Africa.
“We need to find joint solutions as the skill set is increasing. We have 15 employees on the table in Rwanda but more work needs to be done. We also need to make it sustainable by making it available and also making proper disposal for companies,” Klein said.