Seeing human need and business opportunity, GlaxoSmithKline is investing more than $200 million over five years in sub-Saharan Africa.
“We are setting out further steps to tackle Africa’s dual health burden of infectious and emerging noncommunicable diseases and help build crucial capacity to underpin the development of the health care sector in the region,” GSK CEO Andrew Witty said at the 5th EU-Africa Business Forum in Brussels last week.
Although much smaller than Western markets, the African pharmaceutical market is growing about 10% annually and should reach $45 billion by 2020, reports the consulting firm IMS Health. GSK joins other drug companies investing in the region, including Sanofi with a $100 million expansion of a facility in Algeria.
GSK will spend $166 million to expand its plants in Nigeria and Kenya and will construct up to five new ones, possibly in Rwanda, Ghana, and Ethiopia.
The plants will make what GSK calls “locally relevant products,” such as antibiotics and HIV drugs. GSK also will work with regulators and Aspen Pharmacare, a South African generic drug firm, to make existing drugs and vaccines for noncommunicable diseases more readily available. Eventually, GSK hopes to transfer technology so that complex products can be made locally.
In addition to adding at least 500 jobs, GSK will create 25 academic positions at African universities. New programs in pharmaceutical sciences, public health, engineering, and logistics are expected to support the scale-up of domestic manufacturing.
GSK will also spend $42 million to build an open R&D lab for noncommunicable diseases. Similar in design to one it has in Tres Cantos, Spain, the African lab will let independent researchers use company facilities and resources to advance their research projects.
GSK’s move meshes with ongoing initiatives such as the African Union’s Pharmaceutical Manufacturing Plan for Africa, points out Kiyoshi Adachi, legal officer at the United Nations Conference on Trade & Development. Big pharma “is starting to take notice” as many African countries try to develop industries. “Noncommunicable diseases are increasingly becoming important in Africa, but one should not forget that it is also a big place for neglected diseases,” Adachi says.