The long-awaited conference marking the launch of the company cluster of Sidi Thabet (a city in the governorate of Ariana, 20 minutes from Tunis airport) took place on September 28th 2017 at the Tunis export centre (CEPEX) and revolved around the theme: “Sidi Thabet BioTechpole: serving innovation in the pharmaceutical industry.”
“Tunisia has invested much in education and higher education, and is now investing in its applications: industry, technology and biotechnology.”
Imed Hammami, Minister of Industry and SMEs
The BioTechpole’s CEO, Hammadi Ayadi, started off the conference by summing up what the BioTechpole stands for and which pilot projects are already underway in the cluster. Since its launch in February 2017, the BioTechpole’s incubator has hosted four projects and signed a fifth convention under the watchful eye of Minister of Industry and SMEs Imed Hammami. All in all, three government officials attended the conference, the minister being accompanied in his first public appearance since his appointment two weeks ago by Secretary of State Slim Feriani, as well as Secretary of State for Scientific Research and Higher Education Khalil Laamiri.
Minister Hammami insisted that “the stakes are high” and the time is now for investment in biotechnologies in Tunisia. Laamiri echoed Ayadi in saying, “Tunisia has invested much in education and higher education, and is now investing in its applications: industry, technology and biotechnology.” The BioTechpole’s ambitions are thus supported by the Ministries of Industry and Health as they attempt to drive investment into the pharmaceutical industry; a key focus area for the future of the country’s health and economy. The Ministry of Higher Education also sees BioTechpole as the perfect platform for interests to come together and support young Tunisian entrepreneurs.
Additionally, this conference was an opportunity for the BioTechpole to sign two agreements with the French companies NovAlix, which specializes in pre-clinical research, and IMT Group. These two companies will become part of the PharmaIn cluster that its new president, Sara Masmoudi who is also general manager of Teriak, one of Tunisia’s big local pharmaceutical manufacturers introduced as “the ideal place to discuss new inter-company and private shareholder partnerships” as a result of “the presence of all actors concerned by the industry whether they be producers, suppliers, customers or even government agencies.”
A panel of representatives from the private sector attended the conference, including Masmoudi; Chokri Jerebi, general manager of Sanofi in Tunisia and co-founder of Sephire (Tunisian association for innovative pharmaceutical companies); Rafik Bouras, CEO of Cytopharma; Salim Ouertani, business unit manager of AbbVie in Tunisia; representatives from the public company and pearl of the Tunisian pharmaceutical industry, SIPHAT; and Hechmi Louzir, director of the Institut Pasteur de Tunis (IPT). The latter stressed further the readiness for investment in Tunisia and the sector in particular, discussing partnerships with the French state-owned but privately managed LFB which was represented by Sami Chtourou, and the French Agency for Development which underlined how it would always be first in line to support initiatives driving the advancement of biotechnologies in Tunisia.
The welcoming spirit for new projects at the BioTechpole is such that some of the conference’s attendants mistook our PharmaBoardroom journalists for potential new entrepreneurs wishing to join the cluster, approaching them with offerings in logistic and technological support.
The next steps for the development of the BioTechpole will be the launch of a Technological Resource Center (CRT) and a continuous training program which was equally officially announced this Thursday. Finally, an investment amount of TDN 35 million (USD 12 million) in said CRT was announced, “to allow graduate students to dedicate their capacities to serve innovation in Tunisia,” as Ayadi summed up.
Writers: Anna-Luisa Vogt, Alan Le Roux