TBY talks to Dr. Seyed Hamid Mostafavi, Managing Director of Exir Pharmaceutical Company.
TBY What is the company’s mission in the pharmaceuticals sector, and how is it planning to reach this aim?
DR. SEYED HAMID MOSTAFAVI We want to be a life sciences company, and not only be focused on manufacturing medicine. Life sciences comprise all the biological sciences supported by large sections of complementary sciences and technologies, such as bioinformatics and telemedicine. Our company believes we are providing treatments, not just pharmaceuticals. Treatment covers a wider spectrum, and can help people receive more support from companies. Nowadays, pharmaceutical companies support and educate patients, and provide other requirements. For example, in diabetes you can’t just produce insulin, you must also educate the diabetic patients, physicians, nurses, and care providers. Also, we have developed some plans for monitoring patient blood glucose levels and are helping to screen people to find pre-diabetic patients. Therefore, Exir is contributing to the overall health level of the society. Indeed, we want to expand our activities and penetrate further into the market via this approach.
How does a life sciences company differ in approach from a pharmaceuticals company?
Life sciences is a term that covers different segments of the healthcare environment. We are one of the stakeholders in the healthcare environment. Every stakeholder has their own needs and requirements, such as the government, policy makers, and universities, and a life sciences company should establish relationships will all these different stakeholders. We are the manufacturer, so we should make a bridge between ourselves and the educational and research sectors. In my point of view, the meaning of being a life sciences company is to be a major part of the healthcare environment.
Do you engage in any export activities?
Yes, we have registered our products in 20 countries. Exir has been nominated as “the exemplary exporter of the year” in Iran for four years. It is the only pharmaceutical company in Iran that has such a position. Exir is Iran’s leading pharmaceutical export company.
Which countries do you mostly send your exports?
We mostly export our products to Ukraine and neighboring countries like Iraq, Afghanistan, Yemen, Azerbaijan, and Armenia. We have registered our products in the Philippines, Vietnam, and Belarus, which also means our vision is not bound to our neighbors alone. Currently, we are trying to register our products in Venezuela, Brazil, and in other parts of South America. In North America, we have established ExirPharma Inc. We are shareholders and are developing new brands in Canada, such as Mixnatural® and Maximed®.
What are the challenges to exports, since Iran is not part of the World Trade Organization (WTO), and your customers in other countries are subject to high tariffs?
The biggest challenge is the GMP (Good Manufacturing Practices—a general term for standards in the pharmaceutical industry) aspect of the company. For exports to highly regulated markets such as the European Union and North America the company must first be audited by their regulatory authorities. Every country has its own regulations, and some of them want documents in specialized formats such as CTD. It can take a long time to register a product in a new country as the health authorities are concerned about the health of their people. Therefore, the main barrier is the GMP condition of the manufacturer and then the ability to provide the required documents. The tariffs due to non-membership in the WTO do not affect us because we can offer competitive prices to our customers.
In 2008, Exir Pharma was selected as the best R&D division in Iran. How much of your budget do you spend on R&D?
The R&D costs for Exir are around 5%of the total budget. The success of our R&D department has been mainly due to our relationship with big multinational pharmaceutical companies and the manufacturing of under license products. Another important issue is the collaboration of Exir with successful research centers and universities for product development. Exir owes its rapid expansion and progress to the creativity, innovativeness, and continuous efforts of its management and staff.
What are the benefits of being able to work with these major pharmaceutical companies?
Under-license products get higher prices. It also allows the people in the company to learn different aspects of the pharmaceutical environment, for example in marketing, sales, and quality assurance. It is all a matter of technology transfer. Also, these companies help Exir bring its standards into compliance with international norms, which adds to Exir’s reputation in terms of the quality of its products. It encourages other pharmaceutical companies to come and work with us.
What do you think should be done to attract more of these companies to the Iranian market?
Iran is an emerging market in the pharmaceutical sector. The rate of increase in the value of pharmaceutical market is around 25% per year here. With the $3 billion value of the market, in the next five years it will reach $9 billion. There are around 23 countries in the world that you can call emerging markets, and 30% of the growth in the global pharmaceutical industry belongs to these 23 countries. Iran is one of these emerging markets. Due to the financial recession and the problems in big markets like the US and Europe, most of the focus of the major pharmaceutical companies has been on these markets.
Does the government support collaboration with other companies such as under-license agreements, or does it prefer generic production?
The country’s biggest focus is on generic production, because the government seeks to supply the people with cheap but high-quality products. Most of the products that are common to the market after one or two years receive insurance coverage, and some of them can even receive subsidies. The focus of the Iranian Ministry of Health is on local and generic manufacturing, but it supports under-license production and patents.
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