Despite having achieved remarkable success in the manufacturing, marketing and exporting of finished pharmaceutical products, Bangladesh still has a long way to go in the production of its raw materials.
Even though Bangladesh currently has a Tk90bn pharmaceutical market, 90% of the raw materials have to be imported from abroad. The local companies are hardly interested in producing raw materials because the cost of producing locally is much higher than the cost of importing them.
At present, only a few companies – Square, Beximco, Ganasastha Pharmaceuticals, Globe and Active Fine – are manufacturing raw materials for drugs like paracetamol, amoxicillin, flucloxacillin, ampicillin and metmorfin, on a limited scale.
Ganashastha Pharmaceuticals Limited (GPL) alone accounts for about 60% of the raw materials manufactured in Bangladesh.
Even GPL has scaled down its production of the raw materials to some extent, due to the high costs involved.
According to the last annual report of the Directorate General of Drug Administration (DGDA), 39 Bangladeshi companies exported drugs worth over Tk5.39bn to various countries in the world in 2012.
In 2008, Bangladesh Small and Cottage Industries Corporation (BSCIC) began the work of setting up an Active Pharmaceuticals Ingredients Park on a 200 acre land in Baushia in Munshiganj district. The park is supposed to contain 42 units for the manufacturing of raw materials.
DGDA sources said over the last five years, BSCIC had already spent the Tk1.08bn allocated for the park and had only advanced as far as filling earth in the low lying land.
Seeking anonymity, a BSCIC official said the process of setting up the park was plagued with uncertainty as the higher authorities had decided to cut back the allocation for the second phase of the project.
Experts said it was high time that Bangladesh became self-sufficient in the production of raw materials to support the booming pharmaceutical industry in the country.
In 2002, the World Trade Organisation approved a decision, extending the transition period upto 2016, during which the least-developed countries (LDCs) would not have to grant patent protection for pharmaceuticals under the Agreement on Trade Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS).
Experts had opined Bangladesh must develop a strong raw materials manufacturing base before 2016; otherwise the rising prices of ingredients in the competitive world market thereafter would adversely affect the industry.
Abdul Muktadir Chowdhury, managing director of Incepta Pharmaceuticals, told the Dhaka Tribune that the limited sphere of the pharmaceuticals industry had so far not allowed them to set up raw materials manufacturing units.
But now that the industry had grown significantly over past few years, the companies must take up manufacturing of the basic ingredients, he said, adding that otherwise it would be tough to compete with the global players who manufacture their own raw materials.
He also said there was a chance that the waiver for LDCs regarding patent protection would be extended till 2021.
Dr Jafarullah Chowdhury, trustee of the Gonoshasthaya Public Charitable Trust, said the government offered various incentives to attract entrepreneurs to the pharmaceuticals industry.
He also suggested that the government stipulate the pharmaceutical companies compulsorily manufacture a certain percentage of the raw materials needed instead of importing the entire requirement.