The South African pharmaceutical industry is expected to deliver R73 billion in sales by 2025 according to Invest SA’s Fact Sheet published by the Department of Trade & Industry. That’s a significant increase on the predicted estimate of R51 billion for this year alone, ensuring that the pharmaceutical industry is one of the most actively growing sectors in SA, and a major contributor to the country’s bottom line.

The Covid-19 pandemic has seen pharmaceutical companies around the world in a race to develop an effective and safe vaccine, putting their research and development divisions under considerable pressure to find a ‘silver bullet’ as well as placing them – and the clinical trial process itself – under the microscope.

More than ever pharmaceutical companies are under pressure to accurately inform and report on the status of their vaccine research. However, historically there has been a gap between the media and pharmaceutical industry with the former accusing the latter of a lack of transparency.

The role that the pharmaceutical industry has played in supporting the South African economy during the Covid-19 crisis and strategies to bridge the gap between the pharmaceutical industry and the media was the focus of a recent Business Day Dialogues digitized conversation, in partnership with Innovative Pharmaceutical Association South Africa (IPASA).

Photo Credit: Pexels.com/Anna Shvets

Chief Operating Officer of the IPASA, Bada Pharasi revealed details around IPASA’s 2019 Footprint Study which put the spotlight on the contributions being made by the pharmaceutical industry locally. The study found that the Department of Health and the South African Health Products Regulatory Authority (SAHPRA) licensed 276 companies to manufacture, import, export and distribute pharmaceuticals. It also found that R1 billion is planned for investment in upcoming and ongoing clinical trials, estimating that over the past five years, the pharmaceutical industry has spent around R2.95 billion in SA.

The pharmaceutical industry has initiatives in place to bring the cost of medicines down, and makes a significant contribution in terms of its investment into knowledge, skills and technology transfer, said Pharasi.

The Director for Health Innovation at the Department of Science and Technology, Glaudina Loots said one of her priorities around the development of a Covid-19 vaccine is to ensure that any potential vaccine is safe to use on HIV positive patients. Revealing that SA already manufactures some vaccines locally, she said the pharmaceutical industry is the fifth largest contributor to the SA’s trade deficit. The Footprint Study estimates that the value of locally produced drugs will reach R9 billion by 2021.

Accurate medical reporting is more crucial than ever given the Covid-19 pandemic. However, there continues to be friction in relaying or portraying important information.

Science, health and education writer at Business Day and Financial Mail, Tamar Kahn said short news cycles could create challenges for journalists in getting access to pharmaceutical companies about their investment into research and development or the actual cost of producing pharmaceutical products or vaccines.

Despite conceding that credit should go to where it is due given that the pharmaceutical industry has been working at speed to develop a Covid-19  vaccine, Mia Malan, Editor-in-chief of Bhekisisa, agreed that transparency can be a challenge of the pharmaceutical industry. Pointing out that secrecy erodes trust. Given that many governments have provided funding for the developing of a Covid-19 vaccine, she said she is routing for more transparency to better the relationship between the pharma industry and media reporting.

IPASA President Rhulani Nhlaniki said both the association and the industry was cognisant of the need to build better trust with both the media and the public.

To view the full event, click here