Sub-Saharan Africa’s biopharmaceutical industry has a huge amount of potential; the conditions for conducting clinical trials are ideal on many levels, notably due to the diverse populations of potential patients.
This optimal study landscape, combined with the expected increase in transport and storage capacity due to COVID-19 vaccine distribution, means that biopharma manufacturers and clinical services companies will need to build robust supply chains to support the increased requirements likely to emerge from both clinical trials and approved product distribution.
Imports and Production: Current Status
Manufacturers lack incentives to promote and register their latest products on the African market, so many countries in the region use outdated drugs. But there are exceptions; in Nigeria, for example, regulations allow local drug manufacturers to also be drug importers which helps facilitate the launch of the latest products in the market.
Imports are responsible for 80-90% of the drug consumption in sub-Saharan Africa. Given this, there is an opportunity to boost local drug production through incentives, and a growing number of pharmaceutical companies are increasing their investments in the region.
Developing a local drug industry in the region will take many years of sustained investment with positive outcomes including improved healthcare, job creation and increased market competition. There is debate as to whether locally manufactured products would ultimately be cheaper. The structure of local supply chains, which differs between regions, also plays into the affordability of drugs.
The development of supply chains to support local manufacturing, and distribution of both local and international material and products has been accelerated by the impact of COVID-19.
Ensuring Success During the Pandemic
The organizations that have mitigated this impact better are those who are implementing previously developed supply chain risk management and business continuity strategies. Through diversifying their supply chains to reduce supply-side risks from any one country or region, they reduce reliance on any single supplier.
But there are logistics challenges in the region, notably inconsistent power supply and a lack of infrastructure in some countries, so diversifying supply chains requires more upfront investment and logistics planning. The biopharma companies investing in Sub-Saharan Africa can do so when their supply channels are established and robust, with reliable logistics to ensure continuity of clinical trial material and drug supply.
How World Courier is Supporting Growth in the Region
World Courier opened a second office on the continent, in Nairobi, on 1 October 2020. The strategic location close to the airport will ensure rapid turnaround for shipments. The set up means local evidence-based decision making with a focus on quality.The facility is GxP compliant with fridge and freezer storage capacity for packaging preconditioning.
World Courier’s storage depot license in Johannesburg was recently extended to include commercially approved products. This represents a key milestone for biopharma organizations requiring logistics partnership from pre-clinical, through clinical trials to commercial distribution. The facility is in full compliance with local regulations and operations following GxP requirements and provides in-country storage as well as domestic and regional distribution of pharmaceutical products.
The impact of COVID-19 is proving that greater supplier diversity, innovative logistics solutions, and a global perspective are a necessity in future supply chains. With over twenty years of experience in the African continent and 18,000+ shipments across the territory in 2019, World Courier can provide better continuity of supply and extend healthcare solutions in the region.
The Logistics of COVID-19 Vaccines
Based on World Courier’s experience of maintaining supply channels during times of public health crises and transport disruption, we’ve outlined key logistics considerations that apply to COVID-19 vaccine development and distribution – albeit on an unprecedented scale.
Adjuvant Drug Sourcing
Adjuvants are commonly used in vaccines to amplify their effect. They can reduce the time to a robust immune response, and the number of doses needed to achieve it. As such, there is a strong case that adjuvants will be essential in vaccinating the world’s population at speed.
It is therefore vital that any vaccine trial – and later, distribution network – has a cast-iron supply plan in place for sourcing adjuvants.
The Correct Packaging
Vaccines are commonly transported cooled (2-8°C), frozen (-20°C) or deep frozen (-70°C). If the vaccine is to be effective once it reaches the recipient, there must be no temperature deviations. Transit times from manufacturing facility to final destination for administration could be extended due to the global nature of distribution required.
End-to-End Cold Chain Maintenance
Packaging is an important part of preventing temperature excursions, especially if there are unexpected and out of control delays. But each stage of the journey must be properly equipped for refrigerated storage and coolant replenishment as applicable – often maintaining differing temperatures between individual consignments.
Established Chain of Custody
Supply chains are only as strong as their weakest link. An auditable chain of custody is the only way to ensure confidence that the shipment hasn’t been tampered with, switched with counterfeit goods, or experienced an excursion at any point.
At a time when unexpected disruptions have become a feature of global supply chains, local knowledge has become a prerequisite. It is vital to have people who know which airports and depots have the necessary storage facilities if a shipment is held up or must re-route. People who can negotiate changing customs requirements in the local language.
When everything runs smoothly, you don’t need to talk. But when it doesn’t, constant communication is essential. The consignee should confirm time of arrival, shipment volume, and temperature at delivery – so if anything unexpected happens, it can be addressed immediately. The courier should also confirm the consignee knows how to handle the shipment to maintain its integrity once it’s left the logistics provider’s network.
When border restrictions can be implemented with little warning, it is vital to have contingency plans in place if delivery timescales are to be maintained. Alternative flights, routing and entry points should be planned for every lane.
 McKinsey & Company — Should Sub Saharan Africa make its own drugs: https://www.mckinsey.com/industries/public-and-social-sector/our-insights/should-sub-saharan-africa-make-its-own-drugs
 News Africa Business — The Changing Face of the Pharmaceuitcals Market in Africa: https://news.africa-business.com/post/the-changing-face-of-the-pharmaceuticals-market-in-africa-