Non-availability of modern technologies, high cost of materials scuttle Vaccine production
Ahmed I. Yakasai is a Fellow and President of Pharmaceutical Society of Nigeria (PSN). He spoke to CHUKWUMA MUANYA.
What really is responsible for our inability to produce vaccines locally?
Major factors are little or non-availability of modern technologies and high cost of materials, reagents, biological, chemicals, consumables and other supplies. The cost of procurement and maintenance/servicing of equipment, such as safety cabinets, dispensing/capping machines, freeze-drying machines, labeling machines, incubators and freezers, to mention a few, can be alarming. The costs of tissue culture used in the production of the tissue culture-based vaccines can also be enormous.
There are serious challenges with provision of constant electric power, which is an inevitable requirement in any facility, where vaccines are produced, stored, handled and transported on industrial scale. In Nigeria, where central nationwide supply of electricity is not possible, as is the case in many parts today, local generation of power becomes inevitable for production, storage and transportation of vaccine at adequate conditions. The cost of such local generation of power can most times be outrageous. This eventually translates to increase in cost of production and finally increase in the cost of the product.
From a commercial standpoint, the total vaccine market here in Nigeria and abroad is small. The world’s poor, whose children have the greatest need for vaccines, cannot afford to purchase them at market prices.
Why are research systems in our tertiary institutions unable to help with local vaccine production?
Research and development of new drugs, including vaccines, takes more than 10 years to complete, because it is capital intensive. There is inadequate or even lack of funding of research.
What will it cost the nation to begin production of vaccines?
New vaccines to prevent just one disease, for example anti-rabies vaccine, requires not less than $300 to $800m to develop, and the companies doing the research and development must first recover this cost. If this amount is multiplied by the number of diseases requiring vaccine development, the total amount will be staggering.
To alleviate this problem, therefore, support from governments is necessary. The annual budgeting for health has to allocate more funds for research and development of new medicines and vaccines.
In addition, establishment of vaccine production facilities or subsidising the cost thereof for major manufacturers of vaccines is necessary, to ensure both availability and affordability of the product to targets.
The advent of molecular biology and genetic engineering has played dramatic role on vaccine development. However, the new vaccines are expensive, and funding for the project can be hard to find. These design approaches are replacing the trial and error by which vaccines were developed in the past.
Few manufacturers, and regulatory pressures make production more difficult. Consequently, the growth of new manufacturers will go a long way to reduce this gap.
Would there be any gains, if Nigeria should start local production?
I don’t want to go deep into that, but I can tell you that we can save the six per cent administrative charges to the International Purchasing Agency.