The global pharmaceutical industry is experiencing a radical transformation. Bioengineered medicines (biopharmaceuticals) are among the most sophisticated and elegant achievements of modern science. They completely transformed the way patients are treated with higher efficacy, fewer side effects and encompass a much wider range of therapies. With 60 years of experience and leadership in the pharmaceutical industry, Minapharm ventured in at a very early stage to become the only Egyptian company that develops, manufactures and commercializes biopharmaceutical products. Chairman and CEO Wafik Bardissi discusses the company’s biotechnology platforms, its strategic collaborations with Germany, and how Minapharm addresses the challenges and opportunities of providing innovative yet affordable and advanced next-generation therapies to Egypt and the emerging countries.
Minapharm has a long history in Egypt. Can you walk us through some of the company’s milestones over the years?
Established in the late 1950s, the company is Egypt’s first privately owned pharmaceutical factory. Defying the region’s industry norms, Minapharm entered into a joint venture in the 1990s with Germany’s Rhein-Biotech (now Dynavax Europe) to establish Rhein Minapharm biogenetics, the first manufacturing biopharmaceutical facility in Egypt, Africa and the Middle East. The first result of this partnership was the launch of the first Egyptian PEGylated Interferon, third worldwide, in 2005, which helped Egypt’s program to wipe out hepatitis C from its population at an unprecedented pace. In 2006, we established the first biotech research and development platform in the region that allowed process development of new therapeutic recombinant proteins for diversified specialities. Minapharm further consolidated its biotechnology business model and global market position in 2010 by acquiring ProBioGen AG, the Berlin-based cellular engineering expert specialist and global provider of intelligent proprietary technologies.
What is the overarching vision for the company’s development?
Striking the balance between innovation and affordability is the mantra at the company’s core, which allows Minapharm to play an important role by responding to complex challenges of unmet medical needs in emerging markets. To achieve this mission, we established a business model between Minapharm and its two subsidiaries for the biotech platform allowing Minapharm to own the full value chain, starting from the gene all the way to the finished product, including clinical developments. Supported by this strong business model, our mission directly enables commercialization of innovative complex bioengineered products, manufactured using the latest technologies in an affordable way for this economically challenged market. As an example, in one case we succeeded in launching a product that led to a six-fold price reduction of competing imported products. Minapharm continues to venture into the future of biotech by investing in new state-of-the-art facilities in Egypt and Berlin, opening the door for further synergy projects to co-develop and produce modern immunotherapies.
What does this mean for your geographical expansion?
Previously, our focus was primarily to establish novel technologies to launch recombinant products in the region’s biggest market: Egypt. Capitalizing on this strong foundation, Minapharm aims to strengthen its presence across the region, where access to advanced medicines is an everyday burden due their high prices. As such, we aspire to fulfil the need for innovative products at affordable prices to developing countries, while benefiting from the recent ease of trade regulations between neighbouring countries in Africa. Furthermore, our strategic alliance with Berlin-based ProBioGen, who is already a strong player in the US and European markets, repositions Minapharm as a global provider of advanced technologies in the biotech industry at large.
Can you talk about how German cooperation with Egypt can be beneficial?
Strategic cooperation with Germany played a pivotal role throughout our journey. It paved our entry into the biotech industry. German know-how was a cornerstone in developing and manufacturing innovative treatments. Furthermore, Egypt’s first biotech research and development platform consists of Egyptian and German scientists who are striving to develop new therapeutic recombinant proteins. The successful integration of ProBioGen AG has further strengthened our model by allowing backward integration to exploit their advanced capabilities in cellular engineering. Our ability to create a hybrid German-Egyptian culture allowed synergistic projects to constantly drive technology transfer between Cairo and Berlin, resulting in the jointly developing immunotherapies currently in our pipeline. German technology contributed to a paradigm shift for emerging countries; we no longer acquire know-how – we own it.
Besides technology, what distinguishes Minapharm from other players in the Egyptian market?
While the focus in Egypt is still on small molecules, Minapharm recognized early on that there was a global shift in the healthcare industry towards large, complex molecules. This was quite a challenge, but Minapharm proved visionary enough to take the risk and embark onto the biotech industry at a very early stage, readying itself to launch next-generation medicines and advanced therapy medicinal products.
What makes you optimistic about the direction that Egypt is going?
The fundamental strengths of the Egyptian market are unquestionable. Being the largest regional market banking on a 100 million-population base with mostly underpenetrated sectors, Egypt presents a unique investment opportunity for foreign direct investments across many sectors, including pharmaceuticals. Egypt has historically served as a production hub for the Middle East, Europe, and Africa with lower production costs and favorable logistical positioning, as well as beneficial trade agreements. In addition, changes have been quick and the confidence level from a business and consumer perspective is growing substantially. We are quite confident that the current macro-economic indicators will support further economic development towards a prosperous future.
What final message would you like to communicate to readers of Die Welt about Minapharm and partnering with Egyptian enterprises?
The high prices of new advanced medicines will hinder the importation of products, as healthcare systems won’t be able to bear the cost. We stand out as a perfect example of how Egypt and Germany can cooperate at very advanced and compatible technological level where multiple co-development projects were accomplished successfully. We encourage the adoption of similar approaches by European and competent Egyptian counterparts. That model was recognized when ProBioGen AG was represented among elite German companies in the economic delegation accompanying the German chancellor, Angela Merkel, during her visit to Egypt in March 2017. This conveys the message that Egypt is the right place, not only for investment, but also for mutual collaborations and exchange of know-how.