KUALA LUMPUR: The government needs a master plan to attract pharmaceutical companies to set up manufacturing facilities in Malaysia.
Medical experts and pharmacists said such a move would be a crucial security measure to prevent a drug shortage crisis should there be another outbreak similar to Covid-19.
They also said the country should encourage local companies to produce raw materials needed for the industry, thus reducing reliance on China.
The New Straits Times had, on Saturday, reported that China was the largest producer of active pharmaceutical ingredients (APIs) used in drugs.
The Covid-19 outbreak had led to the closure of those plants in China, leading to a possible shortage in generic drugs.
Malaysian Medical Association (MMA) president Dr N. Ganabaskaran said it was important for the government to engage local manufacturers and importers to discuss a mitigation plan.
“They should consider allowing change of suppliers of raw materials used to produce drugs. However, quality must be maintained.
“Malaysia is a net importer of drugs and we need to be concerned as it (pharmaceutical factory closures in China and India’s drug export restriction) may affect this country too. If the situation persists, we foresee an increase in price (of drugs).”
Malaysian Pharmaceutical Society president Amrahi Buang, who shared MMA’s views, said the government should support local manufacturers and encourage multinational companies to establish manufacturing plants here.
“We can now focus on local (companies to produce) APIs. Non-APIs like excipients can be sourced from our natural resources, such as palm oil and rubber.
“There must be a master plan for this. We can go further with halal pharmaceuticals in which we are a global leader.
“We have the expertise and resources to make this plan a reality. The government needs to encourage companies to see Malaysia as a pharmaceutical manufacturing hub.”
Among the commonly used excipients in the industry are peanut, olive and soybean oil to emulsify a drug.
Palm oil is said to exhibit the same capability to emulsify drugs and to serve as a carrier for systemic delivery.
Amrahi said besides the Health Ministry, the Domestic Trade and Consumer Affairs Ministry, Malaysian Organisation of Pharmaceutical Industries, industry experts and universities should come together to work out the plan.
Former deputy health director-general of public health Professor Datuk Dr Lokman Hakim Sulaiman said Malaysia had the capacity to manufacture generic drugs.
“But we need access to raw materials,” said the public health expert from International Medical University.
Local companies include Pharmaniaga Manufacturing Bhd, Hovid Bhd, CCM Pharmaceuticals Sdn Bhd, Duopharma Biotech Sdn Bhd and Kotra Pharma (M) Sdn Bhd.
According to the 2018 guide on the pharmaceutical industry in Malaysia, these companies focus on producing generic drugs like antibiotics, painkillers, health supplements and injectables.
Foreign companies with local manufacturing facilities include Biocon Sdn Bhd (India), Oncogen Pharma (Malaysia) Sdn Bhd, Y.S.P. Industries (M) Sdn Bhd (Taiwan), Sterling Drug (M) Sdn Bhd (the manufacturing arm of GlaxoSmithKline from the United Kingdom), Ranbaxy (M) Sdn Bhd (India), XepaSoul Pattinson (M) Sdn Bhd (Singapore) and SM Pharmaceutical Sdn Bhd (India).
The guide states that the local pharmaceutical industry can produce drugs in almost all types of delivery forms, including sterile eye preparations, injections, soft gelatin capsules and time-release medications.