The Moroccan pharma sector is increasingly looking not just to Europe, but also to Africa. Moroccan investment in distribution to African countries is increasing. But key opinion leaders say that challenges remain. For example, Morocco would benefit from a direct export platform.
“In the past Morocco always looked towards the north but never towards the south,” says Adil Zanfari, president of Genpharma, a local generics player. “When we compared ourselves, it was always to Spain, France and England, but never to the likes of Senegal. Before when we wanted to travel to Africa we had to go via Brussels, London or Paris. Now we can take a plane directly to Africa.”
“Morocco indeed has the potential to become a hub for the pharmaceutical industry in Africa, because it is endowed with considerable assets,” says Myriam Lahlou Filali, the CEO of Pharma 5 Group, a leading Moroccan generics company that recently invested MAD 250 million (USD 24.82 million) in a new production plant.
“Firstly, its strong industrial base makes the difference with Algeria and Tunisia. Morocco also enjoys an excellent reputation and the trust of our African partners. Moroccan drugs are well recognized for their quality; the professionalism of the teams, the francophone culture, and the geographic proximity are also assets. Our African partners actually tell us that Morocco could eventually have the potential to supplant Indian and Chinese products, which suffer from an increasing deficit in trust.”
Cooper Pharma, a leading Moroccan company, has been in Africa since the late 1990s. “There is a real coherence with regards to this Moroccan strategy, a relationship not based on exploitation but on working together to evolve together in a win-win cooperation for all the countries concerned,” explains Ayman Cheikh Lahlou, director general of Cooper Pharma. “We have signed a project to promote local manufacturing in the Ivory Coast and we believe that just as Morocco has a certain degree of self-sufficiency when it comes to the production of medicines, with a high level of manufacturing quality, that other countries in Africa should develop the same capacity.”
However, Moroccan regulation does not make direct exports to Africa easy, as Mohamed El Bouhmadi of ZenithPharma points out. “It is extremely difficult to reach out directly to Africa because of the lack of structure currently in place in Morocco: we have to use French companies as intermediaries. I hope that authorities consider as a priority to set up in Morocco a hub that will allows us to go straight to Africa without any European intermediaries which increase delays and distributing costs of drugs on the African continent.”
This view is shared by Lamia Berrada and Samir Bachouchi, chairman and general manager of Bottu, a Moroccan market leader. “Unfortunately, Moroccan legislation does not allow the creation of a direct export platform. It is a pity that our products go to Europe to be distributed in Africa! For a direct platform to be viable, it should be able to distribute in Africa products that originated outside of Morocco. We can either opt for an offshore structure or ask for permission and support from the authorities to create a regulatory framework to open the door to this project. This is something that manufacturers want, and they are working on it to make things happen, for this is a priority for the sector.” However, the challenges of entering African markets are numerous: taken
individually, markets are generally small, with poor infrastructure and low access to medicine. Will the African strategy be enough to grow the Moroccan industry sustainably? For Zanfari of Genpharma, “to build a Moroccan pharmaceutical giant company we need to go beyond our borders. This is our objective on a long term basis. Becoming an African regional player with a presence in all 54 countries in Africa.” Laprophan, one of the leading Moroccan companies, has its sights on more developed markets. “We are targeting Europe and North America especially for our patented medicines,” explains Ali Bennis, the company’s president.