S. Africa ratchets up protection for domestic drugmakers

Warning to pharma companies aiming to sell key drugs in South Africa: Only domestic drugmakers need apply. The government is putting together a list of 70-plus medications that will have to be procured from manufacturers in the country.

The new restrictions on pharma purchasing come as the South African government is giving preference to domestic suppliers in a variety of fields. The government wants to reverse an increase in drug imports and reverse a decline in local drug production, which has triggered job cuts.

Officials say the policy will, 1, ensure ongoing supplies of key drugs, and 2, support demand for local products. "The intention is to create security of demand for domestic production [and] attract foreign and domestic investment," Trade Minister Rob Davies said (as quoted by PharmaTimes). "This will create an opportunity to enhance local manufacturing to create decent jobs, add value and build export platforms."

A trade association opposes the move, saying that restricting imports will limit competition, and, in turn, end up limiting access to medications. But the country's biggest drugmaker, Aspen Pharmacare, hailed the new policy, saying it would bring more investment from multinationals into South Africa. Aspen is minority-owned by GlaxoSmithKline ($GSK).

Russia also has said it would favor domestic production over drug imports, though it hasn't gone so far as to specifically limit procurement of particular products. Prime Minister Vladimir Putin has promised restrictions on drugmakers unless they actually manufacture drugs in Russia and transfer technology, too. Foreign drugmakers have since teamed up with Russian companies and announced construction plans. Russia's market is larger than South Africa's, however, and the government is plowing $3.9 billion into improving its healthcare system.

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