A good illustration of how long-term vision and continuous investment has turned Morocco into a competitive research, production and export platform is its pharmaceutical sector—an industry that the government has earmarked for ongoing development to increase both Morocco’s healthcare self-sufficiency and that of the African continent.
A telltale sign of this policy to boost the industry came in January, when King Mohammed VI chaired the launch ceremony for Sensyo Pharmatech, a new manufacturing plant for COVID-19 and other vaccines. The $445-$557 million project is a joint venture between the country’s Mohammed VI Investment Fund, the Swedish laboratory Recipharm and a consortium of banks. 57 kilometers east of Casablanca, the facility will be the largest by capacity for the fill and finish of vaccines in Africa, and one of the five biggest in the world, producing active substances for more than 20 vaccines that will cover 70 percent of the kingdom’s needs and over 60 percent of Africa’s.
The project positions Morocco as a key biotechnology hub by integrating research, clinical development, manufacturing and marketing of products. “It’s a decisive step that will create a biopharmaceutical pole of excellence for the continent in Morocco,” according to Samir Machour, a renowned expert in biotechnology and executive vice president of Samsung Biologics, who advised on the project.
With more than sixty years of experience in the sector, Morocco already produces about 65 percent of its own pharmaceutical requirements across all therapeutic areas and it’s a leading pharmaceutical manufacturing platform in Africa, ranking second on the continent in terms of volume. “The sector’s revenue is $1.8 billion and we export around 20 percent of that amount, mainly to Africa, but also to Europe and Arab League countries—we have free trade agreements covering 51 countries,” explained Ali Seddiki, director general of the Moroccan Agency for the Development of Investments and Exports, in a recent interview with Pharma Logistics IQ magazine. Exporters also benefit from the fact that Morocco’s high pharmaceutical standards are recognized by international bodies, including the World Health Organization, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration and the European Directorate for the Quality of Medicines and HealthCare.
The sector includes multinational giants such as GlaxoSmithKline, Novartis, Roche and Sanofi, to name a few, as well as robust homegrown companies like Pharma 5, which specializes in generics that are 100-percent developed and manufactured in Morocco, producing 1 billion units a year. Myriam Lahlou Filali, Pharma 5’s general manager, says the country has competitive advantages for the industry: “The high quality of Moroccan pharmaceutical products is recognized worldwide, we’re price competitive and we’re reliable, which we proved during the pandemic, when we continued providing African partners with all our products, at the same price and at the same quality.”
As proof of the sector’s future-focused attitude, Pharma 5 has recently inaugurated a new, 12,000 square-meter factory. “It’s fully digitalized with artificial intelligence combined with a unique infrastructure serving increased quality, traceability, safety requirements, enhanced industrial competitiveness and increased production capacities. Our new smart factory is one of the largest pharmaceutical factories in Africa and the first of its kind on the continent,” she states.
Another leading local company is Sothema, which represents 35 international contracting laboratories, including Novartis, Biopharm, Biocon and Aspen Holding. Employing around 1,000 people, it has eight production facilities that produce more than 60 million units annually and it generated export sales worth nearly $14 million last year. In 2021, Sothema demonstrated the technological capabilities within Morocco when it started producing China’s Sinopharm vaccine. In the firm’s latest annual report, its chair and CEO Lamia Tazi, who appears on Forbes’ 2022 list of the top 50 healthcare leaders across North Africa and the Middle East, writes: “As a Moroccan citizen, I’m proud that my country has succeeded in producing its own vaccines … our laboratory is the first in Africa and the Arab world to produce anti-COVID-19 vaccines.”
While the kingdom’s pharmaceutical companies stepped up to the challenge of the pandemic, so did a research and education ecosystem that the sector relies on for innovation and the development of qualified talent. One notable example was the Moroccan Foundation for Advance Science, Innovation and Research, an applied research organization operating in a variety of cutting-edge fields, which developed sensitive, reliable and competitively priced PCR diagnostic tests for the country.
Going forward, Tazi believes Morocco has everything in place to almost double its pharmaceutical revenues to around $3.4 billion by 2026. Filali is also optimistic: “We’re very confident in Morocco’s strong, competitive assets, not only the price, quality, reliability and availability of our products, but also those of our country in general, including its geographical position and political vision, led by King Mohammed VI.”