Cape Town: Africa’s Pharma R&D and Healthtech hub?

Africa’s pharmaceutical market is expected to grow to $40 – $65 billion by 2020 having grown 342.5% in 10 years. With four universities, key research institutions and world-class hospitals in the Cape Town city region, research into pharmaceuticals (for TB, HIV and malaria), biopharmaceuticals (developing plant based antibodies), nutraceuticals (from natural products and for indigenous medicine) and medical devices is growing, but could Cape Town be a hub for Africa with the right incentives and support? This is what we discussed at our recent Thought Leaders Breakfast on Cape Town as Africa’s Pharma R&D and Healthtech hub and the proposed Cape Health Technology Park (CHTP). We heard from the following speakers:

Prof Paul Herrling, Chairman of the board of the Novartis Institute for Tropical Diseases

In 2000, Singapore’s visionary government launched their Biomedical Science Initiative to create a vibrant biomedical ecosystem. By 2011, Singapore had attracted more than 30 of the world’s leading biomedical companies, growing the sector by 30%. Novartis was very involved in this initiative with a focus to research neglected diseases and is a key investor in the Initiative. Key learnings for Cape Town to attract international pharma companies like Singapore, is that it needs to be able to attract scientific talent by creating a superior research environment. This includes robust science programmes at universities, quality research hospitals resulting in a proximity to patients, a regulatory environment supportive of leading science with good Intellectual Property protection, and a stable political environment.

Prof Kelly Chibale, Founder of H3D, UCT’s Drug Discovery & Development Centre

Kelly had a vision to create a leading organisation for drug discovery in Africa. Without a well-established environment, he decided to create a network of partnerships for drug research. In 2009, he started with four UCT scientists with the support of Medicines for Malaria Venture and global partners. By 2015, the project has grown to 50 scientists with mainly South African partners and support from the South African government. Kelly feels that for Cape Town to grow in pharma R&D, we need a government with vision and fortunately, the Bio Economy Strategy has been developed. ‘Big pharma companies are commercial entities that serve shareholders, generate jobs, contribute to tax revenues, and make the critical long term investments necessary for successful pharmaceutical R&D.‘ Government needs to create a business friendly environment through regulations and incentives, and good infrastructure for basic research with academic hospitals and labs close to each other.

Craig Landsberg, Project Manager at Wesgro for the Cape Health Technology Park

The Department of Science and Technology and Western Cape Government, in partnership with Wesgro, are currently investigating the business case and viability of a Cape Health Technology Park, which is aimed at enabling and supporting health technology innovation in the Western Cape. This sector is already quite active in the Cape: Biovac, only one of two credible vaccination production units in Africa, recently signed an agreement with Pfizer; Kapa Biosystems was bought by Roche; Cape Ray have recently started clinical trials for breast cancer imaging; and 43% of medical tech start-ups in South Africa are based here. The proposed Cape Health Technology Park will provide an innovative scientific environment for both corporates and start-ups with specific supportive services for global approval of products for export markets. The economic impact will be transformational with R1.57 billion; 2000 direct jobs; and 4165 indirect jobs added to the national economy during its construction phase. In its 10-year operational phase, the CHTP is set to contribute more than 13,000 jobs – and close to R10 billion – to the economy.



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