Unlocking the potential and development opportunities of pharmaceutical products in Thailand

Unlocking the potential and development opportunities of pharmaceutical products in Thailand

The pharmaceutical research and manufacturing industry looks to the decade ahead for Thailand at Bio Asia Pacific 2021, proposing policies to keep up with technological advancements, support the commercialisation of research, and work together to strengthen the global value chain.

The Pharmaceutical Research & Manufacturers Association, or PReMA, reinforced its commitment to promoting health innovations to improve the quality of life of Thais by being a co-partner at Bio Asia Pacific 2021, a leading conference and exhibition platform for Biotechnology, Life Sciences and Smart Health in the Asia-Pacific.  

The event was recently co-organised under the theme “From Recovery to Resilience After COVID-19” by the Thailand Center of Excellence for Life Sciences (TCELS), the Ministry of Higher Education, Science, Research and Innovation and VNU Asia Pacific Company Limited (VNU ASIA PACIFIC) from September 1-3, 2021.

PReMA was a co-partner for the virtual panel discussion on the Roles and Needs of Multinational Pharma Companies to Expand R&D and Production in Thailand held on September 2. This session, moderated by Dr. Nares Damrongchai, CEO of Genepeutic Bio Co., Ltd., exchanged ideas and recommendations on how to make Thailand a regional pharma and medical hub as well as a market for global pharmaceutical products in the future. While the production of pharmaceutical products in the country remains limited compared to markets internationally, the current situation and focus on the post-pandemic era provides an opportunity to elevate the industry’s competitiveness, especially in research and development. 

Boosting capabilities throughout the supply chain

Pharmaceutical supply chains play an important role to connect all pharma stakeholders across the healthcare value chain in Thailand and distribution capacities are expanding to meet the needs of the market and reach out to more people, especially communities in remote areas, to give them better access to healthcare. Ms. Pucknalin Bulakul, CEO of Zuellig Pharma Ltd., which has been operating in Thailand for over 70 years, disclosed that the company was specifically expanding its warehouse and distribution facilities to ensure innovative medicines reach patients and rural populations who struggle to access healthcare services.

Dr. Nara Decharin, General Manager, Baxter Healthcare (Thailand) Co., Ltd., agreed that boosting production capacity was important and that investments should expand to innovative products to reduce the reliance on imports.

“Our company plans to build capacity at the level of CGMP and PIC/S compliant manufacturing required for exports. With the production base in Rayong, Baxter can expand manufacturing into several different lines to handle additional products and manufacture more components and parts, along with capacity for exports. Most importantly, developing the potential of our people must go together with investments,” said Dr. Nara, in talking about boosting production capabilities in Thailand.

Ms. Pucknalin noted that biological pharmaceutical products have strict handling requirements but that Thai companies are able to meet the required challenges. “Biological pharmaceutical products have much stricter handling requirements across a range of temperature controls. Not following these requirements at any point in the drug lifecycle can impact patient safety. Zuellig’s eZCooler is a unique cold chain packaging system that ensures the integrity of temperature-sensitive products to the last mile of transportation, keeping drugs at the right temperatures. We have helped to make medicine and vaccines accessible to those who need them the most,” said Ms. Pucknalin.

Dr. Thavirap Tantiwongse, CEO of PReMA, said that COVID-19 has shown that many existing medicines or pharmaceutical products are being repurposed to deal with the pandemic. Thailand should be involved in this incremental innovation and has an advantage in not having to start from zero. “As an association, PReMA does not have products. Instead, we provide information and knowledge focusing on three pillars which include innovations; augmenting and empowering patient groups and addressing access to innovative medicines. PReMA can act as an intermediary connecting organisations to find synergies and symbiotic relationships. Thailand can be part of the lifecycle process of drugs, moving beyond manufacturing and production. This will put us on the radar of international investors, researchers, and developers.”

Attaining the right ecosystem

Thailand is well-positioned to increase development of its pharmaceutical industry, with the current human resource pool, technological know-how, and collaborative efforts during the crisis, among other factors. However, the country has not yet moved up the value chain to more in-depth research or more sophisticated expertise. Dr. Nara is hopeful that Thailand can become more of an innovator in the future.  

“Clinical trials that will attract investments should be supported with a combination of factors. It is important that the industry sees clear long-term goals. With everything in place, capacity in R&D and clinical trials will be enhanced, products will be recognised by international organisations, and we can then transition to becoming a net exporter of innovative products,” said Dr. Nara.

Ms. Pucknalin and Dr. Thavirap also addressed the importance of catching up with technology, digital health, and related regulations.

“We look forward to supportive long-term policies that result in more innovative medicines, healthcare services, and technologies in the future. The medical culture has evolved to a new norm with the use of rapidly advancing technologies. Tele-medicine and digital healthcare laws and guidelines in Thailand should support the supply chain and be backed by strong public and private collaboration,” said Ms. Pucknalin.

Dr. Thavirap commented that regulations usually lag behind technology. Regulators need to get together with innovators, to look ahead and create regulations that anticipate the potential technology that is to come. There are tremendous opportunities for Thai companies to become CDMOs to the rest of the world.

A Journey to Becoming a Regional Leader in the Decade Ahead

The panellists agreed that Thailand is positioned for success in this arena, with the potential to leap forward from simply being a supplier to the industry. With an educated workforce, teaching institutions, as well as geographic location, Dr. Nara is confident in Thailand’s abilities, but recognises the need to convert the potential into reality. “We’re supplying ingredients to the industry. With all the right pieces, the likelihood is very high. I think a ten-year timeframe is enough for the next generation to catch-up. We have to quickly get our act together and collaborate, and not waste a lot of our potential.” 

Ms. Pucknalin added that there are investments being made from private companies and the government to further support the health care system. Nevertheless, increased collaboration is needed between the private and public sectors to drive Thailand as the region’s medical hub.

Dr. Thavirap pointed out the importance of industrialisation and commercialisation of research and that Thailand is doing well in research. But if the country can’t scale up what has been researched and developed, it will be a challenge to sustain and further invest in research. He hoped that the country can further develop its expertise and become a regional leader in the next decade.

“Thailand should focus on moving from the clinical trial (Phase III) to writing our own protocols and going to Phase II or Phase I. The right partner is needed to boost development, improved regulatory standards are needed in Thailand to move the sector forward. Thailand should be seen as the gateway to ASEAN and a potential location for new research, development, and even manufacturing.”

The panel discussion on the Roles and Needs of Multinational Pharma Companies to Expand R&D and Production in Thailand ended on an optimist note from the member companies and PReMA. They look forward to Thailand making a strategic leap forward in the next ten years building on its current foundation.

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