Awaiting green light on vaccine project

“Duopharma is mapping out its growth strategy, part of which is to move into the trading and manufacture of biosimilars (used to treat complex illnesses), oncology and regenerative therapeutic products, ’’ said group managing director Leonard Ariff Abdul Shahar (pic).

THE main focus at Duopharma Biotech is to identify a vaccine that can be filled and finished at its vaccine line; it is waiting for the government to decide which company it will choose for this task.

As the vaccine is yet to be found, the group is also uncertain on the investment required, but it is monitoring the methods of treatment that may be approved and identifying potential technology partners for this.

Meanwhile, Duopharma’s existing plants are running at a utilisation rate of 40% to 60%; it will initiate its plan to expand capacity once this rate crosses 75% to 80%.

Balancing its portfolio in government, private domestic and international business, the group is working on a pipeline of products aimed at addressing various therapeutic conditions.

Duopharma has plans in place to expand its business in Asean via organic and inorganic means.

With its expansion strategy in place, the group has been recruiting about 100 employees per year, the majority being pharmacists, chemists, engineers and biotechnologists.

The government has identified Duopharma as one of the potential local pharmaceutical companies that would carry out the fill-and-finish process for the vaccine against Covid-19.

The group has an inert human vaccine line at its plant in Klang, which is ready to be used; however, it is facing several uncertainties not only relating to investment in production but also on other requirements such as the type of vials and packaging to be used.

The vaccine project is headed by the government, involving several government agencies such as the Science, Technology and Innovation Ministry and the Health Ministry (MoH).

The government will purchase the vaccine in bulk, which is expected to be in liquid form; this will be delivered to the awarded company for the fill-and-finish process.

Assuming that Duopharma is chosen for the role, it will carry out this process, re-pack the bulk liquid into vials, do the labelling and packaging of the vials.

Labelling involves, among other things, information on the ingredients in the vaccine, its expiry date as well as approved registration and batch numbers.

“Duopharma is mapping out its growth strategy, part of which is to move into the trading and manufacture of biosimilars (used to treat complex illnesses), oncology and regenerative therapeutic products, ’’ said group managing director Leonard Ariff Abdul Shahar.

The group plans to build the first bulk biosimilar plant and develop more of such products with its technology partner PanGen Biotech of South Korea.

It had recently won an MoH tender to supply a product developed with PanGen, to treat, among others, kidney dialysis and cancer patients.

The group’s high active potent ingredients (HAPI) plant in Glenmarie, Selangor, has come out with its first oncological product and a range of other oncological products will be manufactured from this plant.

Targeted as the first cancer medicine manufacturing facility in Malaysia, its products will help treat breast, lung, colorectal, cervical and blood cancer.

This HAPI plant is also fully capable of producing hormonal imbalance medicines and highly potent cardiovascular, central nervous system and musculoskeletal medicines.

Through a 5.53% stake in SCM Lifescience, a South Korean regenerative therapeutics company, Duopharma has the rights to commercialise their range of stem cell products as well as those for atropic dermatitis which is a chronic, itchy skin condition.

With Covid-19, the group has seen a spike in demand for its consumer healthcare products, which contributes about 20% to group revenue; demand is expected to remain strong and there is sufficient capacity to cater for this increase.

For essential and critical products, the group keeps an inventory level of three months so as to maintain a high service level to customers.

Among the upcoming investments will be a new oral solid dosage facility in the Klang plant; a biologic facility (that manufactures drugs derived from living cell systems) in the Klang plant and upgrading of the existing manufacturing facility in Bangi, which produces a range of ethical and consumer healthcare products.

Besides the HAPI plant in Glenmarie, other investments include a new effervescent tablet manufacturing facility and liquid plant in Bangi, a haemo facility (to manufacture solutions used in kidney dialysis) in the Klang plant, a pre-syringe line for filling biosimilars and a sterile powder filling line.

To strengthen the group’s position as a holistic healthcare provider, it is developing several use cases through its partnership with Naluri Hidup, which has a digital health platform targeted at management of chronic conditions.

These use cases, which refer to specific situations in which a product can be used, are related to the diabetes, oncology and renal-related sectors, and are aimed at providing further support and services to patients.

Duopharma aspires to be one of the fastest growing pharmaceutical companies in the region.

It currently has a sales office in Singapore and the Philippines and a representative office in Jakarta; it also exports through local distributors to all other Asean markets.

The group has started to use digital applications to complement its production of therapeutics, especially in its specialty ethical products.

For prescription medicine, the government sector remains the largest customer, contributing about 48% to group revenue, the private sector (45%) and international market (7%).

Annual growth for the government sector is between 10% to 11%, and the private sector, 8%. As a differentiating factor, its products are backed by halal certification.

Duopharma has 1,434 full-time staff, out of whom 53% are graduates and diploma holders.

With a vibrant growth strategy in place, Duopharma is targeting specialty treatments such as for cancer, kidney ailments, diabetes and cardiovascular problems while paying attention to basic sectors like consumer healthcare, amidst Covid-19 concerns.

Yap Leng Kuen is a former StarBiz editor. The views expressed here are the writer’s own.

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