In the last 3-4 months, the whole world has experienced a difficult and unprecedented event. We have all witnessed a global pandemic that has literally affected every aspect of our lives. Selcuk Tanriverdi, General Director of one of the largest Kazakhstan pharmaceutical enterprises, Nobel Almaty Pharmaceutical Factory JSC, told us about how it affected the Kazakh pharmaceutical market and domestic drug manufacturers.
- Mr. Selcuk, tell us about how the company survived the emergency situation related to COVID-19?
- Of course, the COVID-19 pandemic has become quite a challenge for all countries of the world. No one had ever thought that such severe global and local restrictions could be imposed. It was the first time the world had faced quarantine and social exclusion on such a scale. And, it should be noted, Kazakhstan has taken a number of quite effective measures in order to prevent the spread and growth of coronavirus infection, to give the healthcare system a period of preparation and, in general, to obtain more information about the properties, modes of transmission of the SARS-COV-2 virus, as well as about the course and methods of treatment of the disease itself.
The pharmaceutical industry as a whole, in view of the high demand for its products, especially in this situation, of course, was at the forefront and could not do without difficulties We all know that countries have closed their borders. Many suppliers of pharmaceutical substances have stopped or restricted their work. Prices have risen for the most demanded raw materials. Countries that are the world's main suppliers of certain substances have even imposed embargoes on exports, such as paracetamol, antibiotics, etc.
Despite all this, our company continued to operate. We did not stop for a single day to ensure timely deliveries of medicines for medical institutions and the population of our country.
- What measures are being taken at the factory to prevent COVID-19?
- In production halls all processes are carried out in accordance with international GMP standards. They always (and without a pandemic) follow strict rules regarding personnel hygiene, cleanliness of premises, equipment, clothing, and the air entering there undergoes multi-stage cleaning.
But the situation in the office has changed slightly. We strictly adhere to the resolutions of chief state sanitary doctors of the Republic of Kazakhstan and Almaty. At the enterprise the strengthened disinfection mode operates, sanitary and hygienic requirements are strictly observed. According to the approved schedule, de-treatment is carried out with the involvement of specialized companies. A disinfection tunnel is installed at the entrance to the building. To avoid disturbing the social distance, employees have lunch according to a special schedule. They strictly observe the mask regime. There are sanitizers with alcohol-containing disinfectants installed in the premises, and employees regularly treat their hands.
In addition, we have an ozone generator that produces 150 g of ozone per hour. The ozone is fed into the general ventilation system for air disinfection. But this procedure is performed when all personnel leave the building. The air is also disinfected using ultraviolet lamps that are installed in the ventilation system. This process is carried out continuously 24 hours a day.
- Has your company provided assistance to medical institutions?
- There was a shock demand that had to be met urgently. All pharmaceutical companies tried to help provide healthcare workers with protective equipment and patients with medicines. As part of humanitarian aid, NOBEL Almaty Pharmaceutical Factory and its parent company - one of the largest pharmaceutical manufacturers in Turkey NOBEL ILACH - provided Kazakhstan with protection means for doctors and medicines for treatment of complications of new coronavirus infection COVID-19. In addition, we made a charitable shipment of paracetamol medicines to SC Pharmacy LLP, which were further distributed to medical organizations of the Republic of Kazakhstan in accordance with the need, and provided medical masks with a high degree of protection against infection for health workers in Almaty and Nur-Sultan.
- At present, it is quite often suggested that the second wave of the pandemic awaits us in the autumn. Are you getting ready for it?
- Whether the second wave of COVID-19 will actually be or not, no one knows for sure. After all, in previous years the world has already experienced local epidemics of coronavirus infections SARS and MERS, but they spontaneously eliminated and did not grow into a global pandemic. But the SARS-COV-2 virus has some features that improve its ability to spread and penetrate the human body. Therefore, with regard to the new coronavirus infection that is
circulating this year, there are other concerns and very different predictions. One way or another, we must be prepared, therefore, the Ministry of Health of the Republic of Kazakhstan is taking a number of measures. They are aimed at expanding its own production, first and foremost, of personal protective equipment. In addition, we are considering the possibility of localizing the production of those drugs in Kazakhstan that may be needed to treat COVID-19 and its complications.
The assortment of Nobel Almaty Pharmaceutical Factory JSC already has drugs that are used in the treatment of this disease. These are paracetamol medicines and antibiotics.
- How, in your opinion, will the current pandemic affect the Kazakh pharmaceutical market, in particular, domestic producers?
- According to the international analytical company IQVIA, at the end of 2019 the volume of the Kazakh pharmaceutical market in value terms increased by 14% and amounted to 514 billion KZT ($1.34 billion). In physical terms, the market volume decreased by 1.9% to 0.60 billion packages. Thus, we see a slight decrease in drug consumption. It should be noted that 2019 was a landmark year for all participants of the pharmaceutical market, as the state regulation of prices for medicines sold in retail was introduced; ethical promotion rules were approved; prescription rules were changed (now they specify an international non-proprietary name rather than a trade name, except for medicines with complex composition and in cases of individual intolerance). Despite such significant changes, local pharmaceutical companies are actively developing and increasing their market share, which is very important, especially in the context of such a difficult economic situation and changing regulatory environment.
During the first three months of 2020, we observed an unprecedented surge in the volume of sales of medicines - both in value and in kind, they increased by 24%. People on the eve of quarantine bought drugs with a margin. According to the results of the first four months, i.e. taking into account April, the situation levelled off, as in April people people practically did not leave their homes and the demand for medicines was very low.
The pandemic will bring about global change. Many politicians, analysts, opinion leaders are talking about it now. How will it affect health care? Most likely, people will be more responsible for their health. It was conducted a large-scale global information campaign on measures to prevent respiratory infectious diseases. Hygiene requirements have been tightened. People have been trained how and when to wash their hands. This is a simple measure, but paradoxically it is a major innovation that will help reduce respiratory infections and, ultimately, may lead to a reduction in antibiotic use.
- Which areas of development did the company choose for itself as a priority?
- It is very important for us to provide real assistance to Kazakhstan's healthcare system and to produce quality products that our consumers need. Over the last 2-3 years, the company has demonstrated good growth in production and sales volumes of drugs both in the procurement sector for statutory free medical assistance and in the Compulsory Social Health Insurance system, and in the retail segment of the Kazakhstan pharmaceutical market. In general, Nobel Almaty Pharmaceutical Factory is consistently one of the three leading companies in the Kazakhstan market.
We are actively working to expand the range of products. At the moment Nobel Almaty Pharmaceutical Factory JSC has 5 production sites that meet international standards of Good Manufacturing Practice (GMP). By the way, it was Nobel Almaty Pharmaceutical Factory that became the first domestic company that successfully passed the inspection with participation of WHO experts and received GMP certificate. The factory produces 250 trade names of drugs of various pharmacotherapeutic groups in the form of tablets, capsules, creams, ointments, syrups. These are antiviral, antibacterial, antifungal, analgesic, antipyretic, anti-inflammatory, psychoneurological, antihistamine and other drugs.
Also, the export of products is very important for us. We are actively working to increase the volume of exported products, because without this further development of the company is simply impossible. Today the share of exported products from the total volume of our company is 25%. It should be noted that in this direction Nobel Almaty Pharmaceutical Factory JSC is significantly ahead of other Kazakh drug manufacturers.
The Company is a major employer and, as one of the largest taxpayers, makes a worthy contribution to the development of Almaty.
The pandemic has demonstrated that the production of pharmaceutical substances for certain drugs must be established domestically. Because countries can stop production, or close borders, or the demand can be so high that it cannot be quickly satisfied. We plan to establish production of several pharmaceutical substances in Kazakhstan. I note, that we already have some experience, our company has already implemented a pilot project of synthesis of one substance. Of course, this is a completely different technology, different experience, different knowledge, and most importantly, different personnel. It is very difficult to find experienced people; we have to attract foreign specialists who train our specialists.
In conclusion, I would like to note, that Kazakhstan's pharmaceutical industry is very young, but in a short period of time it has been able to demonstrate tremendous results. At first, the vector of development was aimed at implementation of international GMP standards, but today we set new, more complex goals that we have to achieve.
- Thank you so much for the interview, we wish you success.