Pharmaniaga ready for Covid-19 distribution

Its facilities and logistics services are ready to process and distribute the vaccines once the govt has acquired them, says MD

by SHAHEERA AZNAM SHAH / pic by BERNAMA

THE Covid-19 vaccine could be distributed within one to two months after Malaysia has the access to the substances and completed the fill-and-finish processes, said Pharmaniaga Bhd.

Its MD Datuk Zulkarnain Md Eusope said pending the approval from the National Pharmaceutical Regulatory Agency, Pharmaniaga’s facilities and logistics services are ready to process and distribute the vaccines once the government has acquired them.

“When the Covid-19 vaccine comes, which is expected to be as early as first quarter next year, it has to go through an approval process and after a month or two, we could immediately distribute the vaccines throughout the country.

“We have no issues with it, from our perspective, it is just minor changes that we need to do at our plant,” he said during a virtual media briefing last Friday.

He added that the upgrading works at the group’s manufacturing plant are reaching 70% to 80% completion to cater to the Covid-19 vaccines.

Commenting on the vaccine development by a pharmaceutical firm, Pfizer Inc, which announced that its new vaccine requires storage temperature at around -70°C to -80°C, Zulkarnain said the requirement would be a concern to distributors, as well as to hospitals and medical facilities.

“Pharmaniaga does not have the equipment to store and distribute vaccines at -70°C. We are currently accommodating between -2°C to -8°C.

“Government hospitals and clinics also do not have the equipment to store within that temperate range, and the concern has also been raised among experts in the US. If the vaccines require a storage temperature up to -20°C, we can distribute it,” he said.

Pharmaniaga is also embarking on developing its own halal vaccines at its own facilities, which have received the halal status and certification from the Department of Islamic Development Malaysia (Jakim).

Its deputy MD Mohamed Iqbal Abdul Rahman said the group is currently upgrading its facilities to cater to the vaccine production, which are expected to be in full operation in 2024.

“Our board has given the approval to go ahead with the halal vaccine production project, which includes the upgrading of our facilities, as well as the production of our own halal vaccines produced by Pharmaniaga, which is planned to be executed in four to five years.

“The vaccine will be the first halal-certified vaccine for us and will be marketed globally,” he said.

At the moment, Mohamed Iqbal said Pharmaniaga is conducting the fill-and-finish processes for vaccines produced by countries such as India, China, Russia, Thailand and South Korea. He also noted that the vaccines are a combination of halal- and non-certified vaccines.

Upon completion, its small volume injectable plant in Puchong, Selangor, will be the first halal-certified pharmaceutical manufacturing plant in Malaysia.

“Now, all of our factories have been certified halal by Jakim. For halal vaccine, we are currently executing upgrading works and our factory in Puchong will be the first halal factory in Malaysia, possibly in the world.

“We received board approval in the middle of this year and expect to complete the upgrades in about two to three years,” Zulkarnain said.

Reports noted that Pharmaniaga is setting aside about RM100 million for the development of the halal vaccine facility, which includes upgrading works on its existing 26,013 sq m building in Puchong.

For the long term, Zulkarnain said the group will expand its presence in the private market, leveraging its over-the-counter products and, at the same time, continue bidding for government’s concession.

“Moving forward, we are not going to only depend on government contracts, but also the private market because, in terms of supplying ethical drugs throughout the country, the private market has more value.

“We are strengthening our manufacturing of generic drugs and over-the-counter products. We have more than 300 products that have already been approved, but we have been ‘shy’ in promoting them. The board has approved for us to spend about 1% of our revenue on the promotions of these new products next year,” he said.

Zulkarnain added that Pharmaniaga has reached out to the government requesting an extension of the concession, which will end in 2021, or bidding for a new concession to be able to continue supplying affordable medicines to the country.

“We continue to negotiate with the government for the concession, whether requesting for an extension or a new one, in addition to discussing how we could continue supplying affordable medicines to the people.

“We hope to conclude the talk before the end of next year. But due to the current situation, we prioritise in helping the government provide the best solution for the Covid-19 situation,” he said.

Last year, the government extended Pharmaniaga’s services for the provision of medicines and medical supplies to Health Ministry’s facilities, which ended in November 2019, to Dec 31, 2021.

Its wholly owned Pharmaniaga Logistics Sdn Bhd was also allowed to continue providing logistics and distribution services to the ministry for five years, ending Dec 31, 2024.

Pharmaniaga’s shares dropped 13 sen or 2.27% to RM5.59 last Friday, giving the company a market capitalisation of RM1.46 billion.