These major companies are also involved in the production of generic drugs, traditional medicines and herbal supplements, and contract manufacturing for foreign MNCs
by NURUL SUHAIDI
PHARMACEUTICAL companies’ roles as manufacturers, suppliers and distributors have grown significantly in importance — especially since the outbreak of Covid-19 — where there is heightened demand for accessible medicines and supplements.
In Malaysia, there are four types of pharmaceutical products, namely prescription medicines, over-the-counter (OTC) products, traditional medicines and health or food supplements.
These companies are also involved in the production of generic drugs, traditional medicines and herbal supplements, as well as outsourcing their products to foreign multinational corporations (MNCs) on a contract basis.
According to the Health Ministry’s (MoH) Drug Control Authority (DCA), as of December 2019, there were 263 licensed manufacturers with 69.2% or 182 of them categorised into producers of traditional medicine, 26.6% or 70 being pharmaceuticals producers and 4.2% or 11 companies being veterinary products producers.
Based on the Malaysian Investment Development Authority (Mida), the pharmaceutical sector has achieved an export figure of RM2.42 billion for 2021, an increase of 24% from 2020.
Meanwhile, according to data by Statista, Malaysia’s OTC pharmaceutical market generated approximately US$500 million (RM2.19 billion) in revenue in 2021. By 2025, its consumer market outlook expects this value to increase to an estimated US$531 million.
Meanwhile, the nation’s relentless drive to develop and upgrade the pharmaceutical infrastructure has and would be Malaysia’s biggest advantage for both local and international industry players.
Some of the local big names are Pharmaniaga Bhd, Duopharma Biotech Bhd and Hovid Bhd, while the overseas companies include Pfizer Inc, AstraZeneca plc, GSK plc, Schering-Plough Corp, Novartis AG and F Hoffmann-La Roche AG.
Established in 1994 and owned primarily by Boustead Holdings Bhd, Pharmaniaga brings over two decades of expertise from research and development (R&D) to the manufacturing of generic drugs, OTC medicines and nutraceuticals, logistics and distribution, sales and marketing, as well as retail pharmacy.
As the leading and integrated pharma group in the country, Pharmaniaga also brings about a set of robust portfolios of generic products, primary care products for acute disease and speciality care products for chronic diseases.
Pharmaniaga’s distributors and facilities are spread across Selangor, Penang, Sabah and Sarawak, as well as having operations in Indonesia.
Known as the largest distributor in Indonesia, centering in Surabaya and Bandung, it caters to a wide range of clientele such as the government, private hospitals, pharmacies and wholesalers.
Pharmaniaga is also heavily involved in the logistics and distribution of Covid-19 vaccines including Sinovac and AstraZeneca by allowing MoH to utilise its small volume injectable plant — Pharmaniaga Life Science Sdn Bhd — to fill and finish the manufacturing of Covid-19 vaccines and delivered them to selected vaccination centres as part of the National Covid-19 Immunisation Programme.
As a result of the pandemic, Pharmaniaga made a breakthrough in 2021 when it became the first local pharmaceutical company to fill and finish manufacturing a vaccine for humans.
Following the success, Pharmaniaga is now on a mission to produce all types of vaccines to help Malaysians reduce their dependency on imports while enabling the nation to have its halal-certified vaccine.
Among the initiative it did was signing a memorandum of understanding with the National Institute of Biotechnology Malaysia in producing various types of vaccines starting from the R&D stage.
On top of that, Pharmaniaga also signed a research collaboration agreement with BioNet-Asia Co Ltd of Thailand in December 2022 to develop a 6-in-1 combination vaccine (hexavalent vaccine) that will protect children against six diseases.
Locally, Pharmaniaga recently opened a new distribution centre in Kawasan Perindustrian Prai Fasa 4, Penang, to increase the group’s distribution capacity and support demands from the northern region.
The new distribution centre boasts a total of 3,500 pallets of warehouse space for controlled medicine and medical device.
Another company which is primarily involved in reasearching, developing and manufacturing classic and speciality pharmaceutical products is Duopharma Biotech, formerly known as CCM Duopharma Biotech Bhd.
With Permodalan Nasional Bhd as the majority owner, the company focuses on the manufacturing and commercialising of high-quality prescription drugs under its three main portfolios of consumer healthcare, classic pharmaceuticals and speciality pharmaceuticals.
Under its classic pharmaceutical portfolio, it manufactures and distributes over 300 generic drugs that serve the needs of cardiovascular, dermatology, hormones, respiratory, sensory and muscular system diseases.
For the speciality pharmaceuticals portfolio, Duopharma Biotech focuses on drugs for targeted conditions, biosimilar products and medical devices that cater to patients with diabetes, cancer, cardiovascular, renal disease and other ailments of similar nature.
The company also prides itself in distributing accessible and affordable health supplements and tools that are locally made.
Apart from the OTC products, Duopharma Biotech also pioneered a range of halal-certified health supplements and vitamins such as Champs, Flavettes, Proviton and Naturalle which are popular among Malaysian families.
Recently, the group achieved a new milestone by becoming the first pharmaceutical company to receive halal certification for an oncology product from the Department of Islamic Development Malaysia.
The product is currently approved as an adjuvant treatment for post-menopausal women with early breast cancer as well as the first-line treatment for postmenopausal women with advanced breast cancer.
Hovid is another top Malaysian pharmaceutical company which is involved in R&D, manufacturing as well as sales and distribution of medicinal preparations and health supplements.
Staying true to its core value of innovation, Hovid has produced more than 400 pharmaceutical products, all of which are available in the market.
Like other pharmaceutical giants, Hovid also equipped itself with manufacturing laboratories and facilities in Ipoh and Chemor, Perak, where it transformed raw materials into ready-made medicines.
Since its establishment in the 1980s, Hovid has passed numerous audits by different health authorities such as the National Pharmaceutical Regulatory Agency, the US Food and Drug Administration and the Health Sciences Authority Singapore.
In 2017, Hovid proposed privatisation when the company received a conditional voluntary takeover offer from MD David Ho and Fajar Astoria Sdn Bhd. The privatisation is to allow greater flexibility in directing the future for Hovid, especially among the joint offerors.
Before that, the past year was a little rocky for Hovid as it went through multiple challenges including higher operating costs and the revocation of its manufacturing licenses which impacted its financial performance.
Following the official approval of the privatisation after garnering a major equity stake, the company applied to withdraw its listing status and it was delisted from the Main Market of Bursa Malaysia in December 2018 upon obtaining shareholders’ approvals.
Fast forward to the present time, despite the challenges and redirection, the company remains focused on local operations and is currently moving to pursue international distribution opportunities, especially in Australia and New Zealand.
The mission is supported by a recent achievement where its manufacturing facility in Chemor was awarded Therapeutic Goods and Administration Good Manufacturing Practices (TGA-GMP) certification in Septem- ber last year that enabled them access to various markets.
Hovid is one of the very few pharmaceutical companies in Malaysia to be granted the TGA-GMP certification.
Despite the pharmaceutical industry being a heavily regulated sector, the country continues to create an encouraging space for an extensive network which enables MNCs or foreign pharmaceutical companies to set up their branches and facilities in Malaysia.
Some of these foreign establishments include Pfizer, GSK, Schering-Plough, Novartis, F Hoffmann-La Roche, AstraZeneca and more.
Pfizer Malaysia began operations in 1964 and works with healthcare providers, the government and key players in the pharmaceutical industry to advance wellness, medical breakthroughs, prevention, treatments and cures.
Consistent with its responsibility as one of the world’s premier innovative biopharmaceutical companies, the company has expanded its access to reliable and affordable healthcare in Malaysia and beyond.
Locally, Pfizer also supports patients through various support programmes tackling resistance to disease while improving healthcare literacy with the support of other corporate players.
Among the key activities it initiated was ALKare Plus, a patient assistance programme to support lung cancer patients’ treatment continuity for better quality of life.
Pfizer Malaysia also built partnerships with DoctorOnCall and UOB Malaysia in a financing programme for children’s access to pneumococcal vaccines in Malaysia.
GSK is a British multinational pharmaceutical company headquartered in Brentford, England, with many offices globally. It has been operating in Malaysia since 1958.
For the last six decades, GSK Malaysia has grown substantially both in its infrastructure, business operations and talent base.
With a headcount of over 1,000 people, the multinational pharmaceutical company is operating mainly on its four business entities of pharmaceuticals and vaccines, consumer healthcare, business service centres and consumer healthcare quality supply chain.
Its pharmaceutical products cover a broad spectrum of vaccines and major therapeutic areas such as allergy, anti-infectives, central nervous system, dermatology, respiratory, urology and speciality care products.
Its consumer healthcare products, meanwhile, range from supplements to OTC medicines and oral healthcare products.
Another top foreign pharmaceutical company in Malaysia is AstraZeneca, which prides itself as an innovation-driven biopharmaceutical business. It focuses on prescription medicines, primarily for the treatment of cardiovascular, metabolic, respiratory, inflammation, autoimmune, oncology, infection and neuroscience diseases.
It is one of the world’s leading pharmaceutical companies with healthcare sales of US$27.97 billion. AstraZeneca is listed in the Dow Jones Sustainability Index (Global) as well as the FTSE4Good Index.
Founded in 1896 in Basel, Switzerland, Roche made its presence in Malaysia in the 1950s as a third-party distributor.
Over the years, it slowly established Roche Malaysia Sdn Bhd which operates the pharmaceutical business, and Roche Diagnostics (M) Sdn Bhd and Roche Services (Asia Pacific) Sdn Bhd as the shared service centre.
With a total staff strength of over 900, Roche has grown into one of the leading healthcare companies in Malaysia which provide holistic healthcare solutions to practitioners and patients.
Johnson & Johnson
Johnson & Johnson (J&J) is one of the world’s largest and most broad-based healthcare companies that strives to improve access and affordability, as well as create healthier communities.
Besides offices in Malaysia, the healthcare company also has a worldwide presence with over 130,000 employees.
Aside from distributing pharmaceutical and medical products, it is also a common brand that manufactures and sells healthcare and baby products. J&J has also manufactured a single-dose Covid-19 vaccine, developed by the Janssen Pharmaceutical Cos of Johnson & Johnson.
The role of these major pharmaceutical companies is not just to serve medical needs, but also to offer solutions for each of the related segments while enabling the population to have a healthier lifestyle.
- This article first appeared in The Malaysian Reserve weekly print edition