INTERVIEW: Egypt’s large-scale infrastructure projects promise to position it as regional leader in pharma sector: AstraZeneca’s VP

Doaa A.Moneim , Wednesday 23 Feb 2022

Last week, The Egyptian Authority for Unified Procurement (UPA) inked a memorandum of understanding (MoU) with AstraZeneca in order to sponsor Egypt’s first ‘Africa Health ExCon’, which is scheduled for June.

AstraZeneca

On the side-lines of the event, Pelin Incesu, AstraZeneca’s Area Vice President for the Middle East and Africa, spoke to Ahram Online about the MoU, current cooperation with Egypt’s government, the COVID-19 vaccine, and the newly approved Evusheld and its effectiveness against the Omicron variant.

Incesu assumed her role in May 2020 to drive strong business growth across the five core units which make up the MEA region – Africa, Egypt, the Gulf Cooperation Council, the Near East, Morocco, and Turkey.

Ahram Online (AO): Last week an MoU was signed between your company and Egypt’s UPA to sponsor Egypt’s Africa Health ExCon, what could you say on that?

Pelin Incesu (PI): In December 2020, AstraZeneca Egypt signed its first MoU agreement with the UPA to signify its commitment to the Egyptian government and our partnership with the UPA to transform the healthcare system in Egypt.

Our joint goal with that first signing was to provide valuable support and education to public sector pharmacists to ultimately make an impactful difference to the lives of millions of patients in Egypt.

Since then, we have uplifted the capabilities of 1,000 pharmacists from different health sectors in Egypt through a programme that has now been accredited by the University of Wisconsin-Madison College of Pharmacy in the USA. We have also sponsored a total of 72 scholarships to date.

The recent MoU reinforces our commitment to the Egyptian government and the UPA and highlights our position as a central partner to the Africa Health ExCon in June later this year — an event we know will be a critical milestone for us both, as well as the African continent in general.

I’m really looking forward to seeing how our partnership continues to grow in 2022 and look forward to the Africa Health ExCon in June to learn more from other companies and partners and together identify solutions for us to drive health innovation across Africa and Egypt.

AO: Egypt is working on developing its pharmaceutical sector and infrastructure with projects such as the Egyptian Medicine City ‘Gypto Pharma’, which is considered one of the largest medicine cities in the Middle East. What do you think about such projects, and how can AstraZeneca benefit from it? 

PI: Such large-scale projects promise to position Egypt as a regional leader in the pharmaceuticals sector.

AstraZeneca can only stand to benefit from seeing Egypt grow and expand its pharmaceutical and medical expertise, and we are ready to play our part.

We pride ourselves on more than half a century of presence in Egypt, where we currently have more than 800 employees and a capital investment valued at $60 million, which is set to expand in the coming years.

AO: What is AstraZeneca’s strategy in Egypt compared to other countries in the region?

PI: AstraZeneca’s strategy in the region focuses on partnering with governments and health authorities to enhance the sustainability and resilience of the healthcare system and to build and maintain scientific leadership in therapy areas, such as oncology, cardiovascular, and metabolic diseases, rare diseases, immunology, and COVID-19.

Egypt remains a key country of focus for us, and we work closely with the national authorities to ensure access to innovative medicines for patients.

Our priorities are aligned with Egypt’s national agenda, ensuring that we work hand-in-hand to tackle challenges within the healthcare sector, effectively playing our part in contributing to a resilient health system.

AO: What about local partnerships and projects that the company is engaging in across the country?

PI: We are continuously increasing our footprint through partnerships and programmes to serve Egyptian patients. Through programmes like these in Egypt and across the region, we work together with governments, policymakers, and healthcare professionals to improve the health system’s performance in prevention, treatment, and recovery from acute and chronic diseases.

For the healthcare system, we are working with the Egyptian Ministry of Health and Population to launch the Partnership for Healthcare System Sustainability and Resilience (PHSSR) in collaboration with the World Economic Forum and the London School of Economics and Political Science (LSE).

On the medical education side, AstraZeneca supports the pharmaceutical community through continuous medical education programmes in cooperation with international centres of excellence and national medical societies.

These initiatives include providing pharmacists with Health Technology Assessment accreditation initiated by the LSE and AstraZeneca.

Moreover, we recently set up the ONCOLY, PICS Scientific Programme, which supports continuing medical education in an innovative way for oncologists in Egyptian university hospitals.

Our partnerships in Egypt also extend to start-ups and social enterprises supporting sustainability projects such as the Shagara at School Programme and public entities like the Supreme Council of University Hospitals.

Furthermore, our flagship Young Health Programme partners with five different ministries and NGOs to enable a better future for youths in Egypt.

All of that comes besides other programmes in the fields of Lung Holistic, in addition to the Your Health – Your Strength Programme with Egypt’s Universal Health Insurance System (UHIS), which aims to raise awareness around the importance of mitigating non-communicable diseases (NCDs) and early screening.

AO: Egypt embraced one of AstraZeneca’s factories in the region, which other countries in the Middle East and Africa (MEA) have similar factories? And what is the difference between them and the one in the UK?

PI: We have manufacturing sites in many different parts of the world, including across the MEA region.

In Egypt, we have a manufacturing plant that was inaugurated in 2006 with a formulation capacity of 900 million tablets. The plant supplies the Egyptian healthcare community with drugs from different therapeutic areas: cardiovascular, gastrointestinal, respiratory, neuroscience, and oncology.

But no matter where our medicines are manufactured, we maintain a comprehensive quality management system to assure compliance and quality. We are committed to high product quality, which underpins the safety and efficacy of our medicines.

AO: How do you see the MEA’s performance compared to developed regions amid the ongoing challenges? And in your perception, why are MEA countries not producing the COVID-19 vaccine?

PI: AstraZeneca has a strong presence in and enduring commitment to the MEA region. We believe that our pipeline of innovative drugs can serve the region’s patients.

Recognising the urgent need for a safe and effective COVID-19 vaccine, in April 2020, we joined forces with the University of Oxford, a landmark partnership, which brought together world-class expertise in vaccinology with our global development and manufacturing capabilities. Together we committed to providing the vaccine broadly and equitably across the globe at no profit during the pandemic.

To support our goals, AstraZeneca partnered with capable, established vaccine organisations in countries which have large-scale manufacturing capacities to ensure that the vaccine could be manufactured at a large scale and reach people in need as quickly as possible if approved for use.

AstraZeneca has now supplied over 2.5 billion doses of the vaccine globally with approximately two-thirds going to low- and middle-income countries and over 260 million doses supplied through our partnership with the COVAX Initiative.

Also, AstraZeneca was the first company to partner with COVAX to accelerate equitable access to COVID-19 vaccines around the world and, to date, over 26.2 million doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine have been supplied to Egypt.

AO: What other areas is AstraZeneca active in across Egypt?

PI: Oncology is an active therapy area for AstraZeneca in Egypt. Our priorities include evidence generation and publications; healthcare practitioner education and training; early diagnosis and screening; partnerships; and patient support programmes.

 A number of ongoing studies are helping us understand gaps in cancer management in Egypt as well as unmet needs and current practices.

Besides offering AI technologies to identify early-stage lung cancer, we also aim to support the early detection and treatment for men at risk of prostate cancer by screening 40,000 individuals in 2022.

Also, we are partnering with the Women’s Health Presidential Initiative to help build precision medicine infrastructure and capabilities as well as improve access to innovative drugs in the public sector.

AO: On the recently approved Evusheld protection treatment, in which other countries is Evusheld available besides Egypt?

PI: Egypt is the first country globally to receive it. Agreements are in place around the world for the supply of Evusheld in 2022, including in North America, across the EU, and in the Middle East.

We have built a global supply chain to support the production of Evusheld and we are committed to providing supply to all countries where we have firm agreements as quickly as possible.

Evusheld is the only antibody therapy to receive emergency use authorisation in the US for pre-exposure prophylaxis (prevention) of COVID-19 and the only antibody therapy authorised for this use that shows neutralising activity against Omicron and all other variants of concern to date.

On 14 February, we announced that AstraZeneca has agreed to supply the US government with an additional one million doses of Evusheld, bringing the total number of doses destined for the US market to 1.7 million.

AO: How effective is the AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine against Omicron?

PI: New data from a preliminary analysis of our ongoing safety and immunogenicity trial showed that AstraZeneca’s COVID-19 vaccine, when given as a booster, increased the immune response to Beta, Delta, Alpha, and Gamma SARS-CoV-2 variants, while a separate analysis of samples from the trial showed increased antibody response to the Omicron variant.

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