South Africa could be a world leader in pharmaceuticals, says Minister Pandor at IPASA Summit on medical innovation

Issued by IPASA


Johannesburg, 1 September 2016: South Africa has ambitions to become a world leader in biotechnology and pharmaceuticals, based on its indigenous knowledge and expanding science base, said Minister of Science and Technology Naledi Pandor, speaking at the inaugural IPASA (Innovative Pharmaceutical Association South Africa) Innovative Medicines Summit held on September 1.


It was believed South Africa could secure a world leadership role as it is developing countries today which were at the forefront of global scientific discovery. This was highlighted by pioneering work being undertaken in South Africa in areas such microbicides to prevent HIV-AIDS, as well as drug and vaccine development for malaria and tuberculosis, the Minister said.


The department has developed an ambitious plan called the ‘Farmer to Pharma grand challenge’, which involves taking the necessary initiatives and building the necessary infrastructure to improve the drug-development value chain.


Pandor said: “The objective is to minimise the innovation gap and to create opportunities for the commercialisation of products and services that will reduce the burden of diseases affecting the majority of our people.”


Medical research and development (R&D) relating to a wide range of chronic diseases endemic to Africa was the central theme at the IPASA Summit. IPASA is a voluntary trade association that represents a diverse group of 25 leading pharmaceutical companies which are dedicated to exploring, developing and bringing innovative, quality medicines to the South African market.


“Importantly, [we] have the primary purpose of stimulating product-oriented innovation. We have a number of platforms (Centres of Competence and Centres of Excellence) aimed at stimulating and coordinating research activity particularly in the areas of HIV/AIDS, malaria and TB,” the Minister said.


“The pharmaceutical sector is vital to the South African economy and to our science base, and it will continue to be a key component in the enormous health challenges that will dominate our R&D agenda for the foreseeable future.


“Given the challenges of innovation, continued R&D progress requires robust support in the form of strong patent protection incentives and cooperation. The development of a strong and vibrant worldwide pharmaceutical industry is of enormous importance to Africa.”


The Minister noted that South Africa’s scientists were part of a global community that seeks opportunities for new treatments to address unmet medical needs. “I think particularly of gene therapy, cell therapies and tissue engineering. Such work will prove useful if we can develop strategic mechanisms aimed at turning fundamental research findings into innovative treatments that are not only available but also accessible to patients who need these medicines.


“Indeed, all of us have a critical role to play in guaranteeing the leadership and cooperation required to ensure that advances in science and medicine will alleviate suffering and meet the critical medical needs of the millions of people on the continent,” said Pandor.


In terms of intellectual property issues relating to patents, she noted that government’s strategy was to address them “in such a manner that will complement existing mechanisms without stifling innovation”.


Noting that medicine innovation is a global activity, she stated that foreign investment was encouraged and the government worked hand-in-glove with international agencies. “We are also striving to create a positive environment that will encourage innovative companies to invest in South Africa for pioneering research – and to go on to develop and manufacture their innovations in South Africa.


“To strengthen our existing health innovation projects and to learn from the experiences of others, we have forged a number of mutually beneficial international partnerships. One such partnership is the Grand Challenges South Africa partnership, aimed at reducing the burden of pre-term birth and addressing the causes of deaths in women during pregnancy and childbirth.


“Another is the Strategic Health Innovation Partnerships (SHIP), which facilitates collaborative research dedicated to addressing the burden of HIV, AIDS, tuberculosis, malaria and non-communicable diseases, and helps to secure international research and financial partnerships to drive R&D efforts.


“In 2014, the SHIP and the Programme for Appropriate Technology in Health, or PATH, launched a partnership called the Global Health Innovation Accelerator. This partnership aims to fast-track the most promising technologies to address the health needs of low-resource communities. It will connect the funding, scientific and technical expertise of global partners with local scientists and innovators to accelerate product development,” said Pandor.


“These partnerships reflect a changing world. Our problems are also our neighbours’ problems. HIV-AIDS, malaria and tuberculosis are on the rise in regions previously considered to be safe from their disease burden, while non-communicable including lifestyle diseases now have a devastating impact in the developing world,” said the Minister.


As an association, IPASA aims to promote a sustainable environment for the pharmaceutical industry to invest in the research and development of innovative pharmaceuticals, contribute to a patient-centred health system and bring the benefits of break-through treatments to patients across South Africa.