Jan. 30, 2022


Lekan Asuni

Nigeria

Lekan Asuni

Managing Director & CEO, Lefas Pharmaceuticals

Lefas Pharmaceuticals is working on locally producing medical devices as well as pharmaceuticals and vaccines in the medium term to improve localization.

BIO

Lekan Asuni holds a bachelor of pharmacy degree from University of Ife (now Obafemi Awolowo University) and a master of business administration. He is an alumnus of Ashridge Business School. He is currently the Managing Director & CEO of LEFAS Group, consultancy services and commercial operations, based in Nigeria. Prior to this, he was managing director, GlaxoSmithKline Pharmaceutical Nigeria/Anglophone West Africa.


In 2019, Lefas Pharmaceuticals was planning to look into medical devices and vaccines. How have those plans advanced as a result of the pandemic?

We had a slowdown in the medical devices venture. Prior to the pandemic, we prioritized it, and now it is about 70% ready. We want to conclude with medical devices before we move to pharmaceuticals. We are currently fast-tracking both. Vaccines will come later depending on the readiness of the regulatory agencies. We expect production facilities to come live in the next two years depending on funding, which we expect to receive in 2021. After funding, site development will take about 18 months, and we have to build it up from scratch. However, that is being developed alongside medical devices. The vaccine aspect is still in the proposal phase. We were unable to progress at the moment, though we do have a concept on the table. Before we can manufacture vaccines, there is a level that the regulatory agency has to attain. Ours is still at level two, and we need to be at level three or four.

Do Nigeria have the potential to become a vaccine manufacturing hub?

It does. We are waiting for the regulatory agency to quickly obtain the level three and four certifications, leveraging the private sector, technical angle, and commercial angles. We are looking at all forms of collaboration. With the commitment from many technology partners that are willing to transfer technology and from the government to recognize the shift and support the agency, they can help support the process. Nigeria aspires to be the hub, especially as it accounts for 50-60% of West Africa's population. Looking at the qualifications of other regulatory agencies in West Africa, Nigeria is at the top, even though we have not reached the goal yet. That will support the local manufacture of vaccines that can be used throughout the entirety of West Africa.

Why do some multinational companies not localize their manufacturing?

For most companies, aside from a few product lines, the volume is not attractive enough to set up a factory. When you optimize installed capacity, your cost per unit is low. It is extremely efficient and allows them to offer the product at a competitive price. My investors and I want to attract multinational manufacturers to produce at our factory. You have to ensure consistency and that the products are identical across the globe. We are entering a phase where we meet compliance standards. Ultimately, multinationals are ready to start their operations here, but are unable to find suitable local partners. We hope that with this venture they will be able to consider us. Some of the molecules that are available to work with here are classified as established brands in the west. That presents an opportunity for knowledge and technology transfer from the multinational partners. We need to demonstrate that we can work in this environment.

Where does Nigeria stand in terms of self-sufficiency when it comes to the provision of basic drugs?

It is important to look at this issue across the whole spectrum of the value chain, whether they are local manufacturers or importers. For finished products, we are dependent on imports. Apart from the packaging, local manufacturers import almost everything, including the machinery, some elements of the packaging, and materials. We are over 80% import-dependent across the value chain. I would like to see a solid policy that examines the value chain and looks into how we can encourage investment along the value chain for localization. It is not about getting finished products in Nigeria. My aspiration is to set short, medium, and long-term goals to take baby steps along the value chain within a decade and invest in some of the simple imports so we can begin to see localization. Gradually, we can then increase the level of local content. The population is here, so if this is successful logistically, it will become a hub.

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