Londiwe Buthelezi

South Africa and Africa as a whole need to formulate new models to allow generic drug producers to make cheaper versions of patented medicines. This would encourage suppliers to cut medicine costs, according to Minister of Science and Technology Naledi Pandor.

Speaking at the Global Forum for Health Research in Cape Town this week, Pandor told delegates that health care was largely financed out of hand in Africa, creating a vast need for cheaper medicine.

Pandor said research and development was growing significantly as pharmaceutical companies looked to promote open innovation in research.

But even though much of the clinical testing and development took place in low-cost emerging countries, much of the sector’s research money continued to be spent in the developed world. She said the time for enterprise development in Africa had arrived.

“With patents expiring in high numbers, traditional markets are becoming saturated in developed countries. Emerging markets are the new frontier. Originally attractive for offering low-cost production, developing countries now present a viable market for multinational corporations,” Pandor said.

She said South Africa had built up strength in clinical research over the past decade.

Pandor said access to emerging markets was becoming an important factor for health-care companies in choosing where to locate their research and development as these markets become wealthier and their middle classes grew in size. Thus Africa needed to improve its skills base so that companies would be willing to move their research units to the continent.

Pandor’s address came less than two weeks after the Department of Trade and Industry announced preferential procurement regulations for pharmaceuticals, which will require the government and state organs to source more medicine from local manufacturers.

Pandor said it was essential for African researchers to get involved in finding solutions for the health problems of Africa.

She said South Africa had in the past year set up several centres of competence to stimulate and co-ordinate research activity, diagnostics and vaccine development.