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Peg Interferon Launched by Pakistan Biotech: Getz Pharma to launch therapy for Hepatitis C patients
  Biotechnology-based drug for hepatitis C will be manufactured by a Pakistani company for the first time
By Irfan Aligi
KARACHI: Getz Pharma would launch the Pegylated Interferon therapy for the treatment of hepatitis C in Pakistan. The new therapy would be highly cost-effective and easy to use as the manufacturer and presenters of the new therapy have considered patients' care and comfort. It would also be the first time that a biotechnology-based essential drug would be manufactured by Getz Pharma, a Pakistani company. It is pertinent to mention that approximately every 20th person in Pakistan is infected with hepatitis C.
The initiative taken by Getz Pharma to invest in the local manufacturing of Pegylated Interferon (Unipeg) in the country would substantially reduce the cost of treatment for a person suffering from hepatitis C. The company has invested in research and development to formulate this molecule with the help of a team of scientists from the Netherlands, led by Dr Ben Rademaker, a PhD-holder.
Getz Pharma Managing Director and Chief Executive Officer Khalid Mehmood, during a press conference on Thursday, said the size of the country's pharmacy market is about Rs 119 billion, which is growing by 12 to 13 percent. Henceforth, they have been able to export pharmacy goods to 45 countries around the world. The pharmacy sector in the country is the largest employment provider, with around five million people employed. Pakistan's pharmacy industry meets 90 percent of the needs of pharmacy goods.
Pharmaceutical exports are at their highest as compared to other corporate sectors in the country and have achieved a 29 percent growth, which is four times of the country's textile exports. Still, the country's spending on health according to annual budgetary allocations is just 0.4 percent of the GDP, while Bangladesh is spending 0.8 percent, Khalid said.
Investment: He said Getz Pharma was set up in 1995 as a small company with only 45 employees, while today the number of its employees exceeded 2,500 worldwide, and 1,850 people in Pakistan. Getz Pharma invested Rs 4 billion in revamping existing facilities, in purchasing state-of-the-art production, quality control from 2005 to 2009. It has a plan to meet the 54 percent target of exporting medicines. According to the Federal Bureau of Revenue, Getz Pharma was the second largest taxpayer unit in terms of taxes and duties with an estimated Rs 636 million in 2009, he added.
Khalid said the company's total investment in Pakistan was Rs 4 billion in the last three years, including investment in manufacturing technology of the first locally manufactured recombinant human insulin. It plans to invest an equal amount in the coming two years in new technologies that would result in local manufacturing of drugs that are currently being imported at high costs. It may be mentioned that Getz Pharma is the single largest exporter of pharmaceutical products from the country. It was estimated that the company's exports account for approximately 40 percent of the country's total pharmaceutical exports.
Dr Bernardus Rademaker, speaking on the occasion, said the analytical, toxicological and pharmacokinetic studies for Unipeg (Pegylated Interferon Alpha 2a) had been carried out in Europe, comparing it to the existing research molecule.
New era: He said in addition, bioactivity and potency had also been evaluated at the Centre for Applied Molecular Biology in Lahore, a premier institute of the Science and Technology Ministry. Specialised manufacturing and testing technology is required for manufacturing the Unipeg. He said Getz Pharma had acquired the technology at a substantial investment and a number of these tests were not currently available in the country's pharmaceutical industry. Through this molecule, Getz Pharma would herald a new biotech era in the country, he added.
To a question, Dr Rademaker said since the molecule was not available in the US, it was not necessary to seek approval form the US FDA. He also said collaboration with Getz Pharma was not business-oriented, but it had been overwhelmingly planned that the hepatitis C affected population of the country should be provided with a cost-effective and latest mode of treatment.
Dr Rademaker holds a PhD in biotechnology from the State University Utrecht, Holland. He is the founder and CEO of InProPharma, a company specialising in technology platforms for the production of biologically active proteins. Prior to setting up his own company, Rephartox BV, a contract research company for the pharmaceutical industry, he was the director of Corporate Drug Development at the Rhein Biotech NV, Maastricht and the Green Cross Vaccine Company, Seoul, Korea. He is a member of the Dutch Pharmacological Society and is a registered pharmacologist. He has authored more than 50 scientific publications, and many regulatory affairs documents.
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