Saudi Chemical Company Holding (SCCH), Saudi Arabia’s leading manufacturer of civil and military explosives, has been expanding its pharma sector footprint in recent years. Today, the company has capabilities across pharma distribution through SITCO Pharma, manufacturing (both for its own products and as a contract manufacturing organisation (CMO)) via AJA Pharma, nutrition and medical equipment distribution as CCCI, as well as third-party logistics (3PL) services for international firms.
Spearheading this evolution since 2020 is GSK and AstraZeneca veteran Ismail Shehada, who describes the decision to switch from Big Pharma to a local company as “both exciting and challenging.” He adds that in this new role he can “play a bigger role in Saudi Arabia’s healthcare transformation,” noting the significant move towards localisation that the country’s Vision 2030 plan entails.
As SCCH looks to scale the value chain across all its healthcare verticals, the firm is placing great emphasis on leveraging the experience and knowledge of multinational pharma executives such as Shehada internally, as well as that of its partner network; over 30 global companies use SITCO Pharma as their distributor in Saudi and AJA Pharma has 15 contract manufacturing deals in place.
Cognizant of the importance of knowledge transfer when working with global firms, Shehada opines that “taking know-how from manufacturing MNC products can be used to the benefit of our own products; indeed, in some of our deals with MNCs we have agreed a technology transfer to AJA, which has benefits both for us as a company and the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia as a whole.”
He goes on, “Getting approval and certification to manufacture products for MNCs is a very lengthy process, something I know well from my previous career! These CMO deals – of which we have struck several with the likes of GSK, Abbott, Servier, Lundbeck, and Novartis – help ensure that our standards are globally competitive.” This will be increasingly important as SCCH has decided to pursue a global footprint, for which well-selected proprietary products are necessary.
Shehada explains that the advanced nature of the AJA Pharma manufacturing site sets it apart from those of its competitors and positions the company at the vanguard of producing next-generation medicines within Saudi Arabia. “This site is state-of-the-art in terms of both design and machinery and – building on our footprint in solid form, semi-solid form, and liquid form manufacturing – we are now moving into the manufacturing of injectables with a new sterile suite.”
He continues, “Having injectable manufacturing capability will be a gateway into the manufacturing of biosimilars, vaccines, hormonal drugs, and advanced oncology drugs, and will give us a further competitive advantage over other local manufacturers.”
This increased focus on upskilling, increasing capabilities and capacity in manufacturing – alongside the work being done in 3PL and other areas – is, for Shehada, positioning SCCH at the forefront of Saudi pharma’s enormous transformation. “The Saudi pharma industry is advancing rapidly in terms of process, digitalisation, infrastructure, investor incentives, and trust,” he proclaims. “There are strong support networks for investors here today. Saudi Arabia will become the pharma industry’s MEA hub by 2030 and therefore companies should act quickly and start investing here, where the best future is.”