The important role of the innovative pharmaceutical industry in South Africa


Innovative pharmaceutical companies currently spend a very high value and proportion of sales on research & development compared to other sectors.

Innovative pharmaceutical companies play a significant role in contributing to the global economy, and innovative new medicines provide tremendous value to patients and society. In recent years, medicines have resulted in significant progress against some of the world’s most complex diseases, often fighting not only the symptoms but the root causes of these debilitating diseases.

Closer to home, the innovative pharmaceutical industry continues to be a leader in the development of new medicines, vaccines, and diagnostics.

As stated by the Innovative Pharmaceutical Association of South Africa (IPASA)’s 2019 Footprint study, multinational pharmaceutical companies continue to have a significant impact on the South African economy, particularly in the region of research & development, clinical research, job creation as well as manufacturing and overall economic contribution.

The study further shows that between 2016 and 2021, an estimated R2.95bn will have been spent by innovative multinational pharmaceutical companies in the country, supporting clinical research into new treatments serving unmet medical needs. The impressive volume and proportion of clinical research activity in SA set the country apart from its developing economy peers.

Innovative pharmaceutical companies currently spend a very high value and proportion of sales on research & development compared to other sectors. In South Africa, clinical research sponsorships by innovative pharmaceuticals in SA are substantial and continue to grow. More than R1bn has already been earmarked for investment in upcoming and ongoing trials, which will benefit patients immensely.

With leading international companies dedicated to researching and developing novel medications, medical devices, and diagnostic tools, IPASA is proud to have an association that prioritises building an environment for sustainable access to innovative research-based healthcare.

As the fight against Covid-19 marches on, IPASA member companies are involved in the search for new vaccines, therapeutics and diagnostics and have initiated engagements with governments across sub-Saharan Africa, including South Africa, to understand how they can support their national Covid-19 response and strategies.

While a vaccine is in development, IPASA and its members have also committed to ensuring that those with underlying conditions receive sufficient supply of much-needed medications. The outbreak of the virus has shown that the most at-risk population are people over 65 years of age, with underlying conditions, including cardiovascular disease, chronic lung disease, immunosuppression, diabetes, chronic liver, or kidney disease and more.

IPASA wants to assure people living with chronic conditions that the supply of medication needed to manage their conditions will continue. The Covid-19 pandemic has highlighted the vulnerability of people, but particularly those with underlying conditions. Our aim is that we provide continuity for our most vulnerable in the population.

As science-driven research-based pharmaceuticals, IPASA members have provided novel solutions to some of the world’s biggest health care challenges of our time and have a clear role to play in leading the development of effective treatments and vaccines against Covid-19. To this effect, many of our member companies have deployed teams of scientists working collaboratively across different companies to develop a viable vaccine.

Already, many of our member companies have accelerated their progress in this regard. For example, Pfizer has announced their vaccine candidate, which has demonstrated evidence of efficacy against COVID-19. What an incredible feat!

IPASA member companies have been engaging with governments, GAVI, UNICEF, WHO and other stakeholders to ensure that millions of doses will be distributed across the globe equitably, provided that these vaccines are efficacious and safe; and are approved by regulatory authorities.

IPASA members remain committed to partnering with other stakeholders to ensure that vaccines reach low- and middle-income countries. We believe that there should be an increased focus on building local capacity to scale up vaccination programmes. We are also prepared to improve the industry’s manufacturing capabilities and willingly share the available ability to ramp up production once a successful vaccine or treatment is approved.

I urge all healthcare stakeholders to continue to stand with the global community and the World Health Organization (WHO) in the fight against the Covid-19. Together, we will win.

By Banda Pharasi. Banda Pharasi is the Chief Operations Officer at the Innovative Pharmaceuticals Association South Africa (IPASA).