Apex Biotech, the first pharmaceutical company to be licensed to manufacture different types of drugs in Rwanda, says it has extended the date of commercial production following disruption caused by Covid-19. The firm was supposed to kick off operations in April after acquiring a license by the Rwanda Food and Drugs Authority (FDA) in February. The Rwandan and Bangladeshi owned factory in the Kigali Special Economic Zone was expected to put out their first batch of drugs a couple of months ago, but the pandemic slowed the plans. According to Herbeton Madari, the Co-Founder of Apex Biotech, shipping raw materials took longer than planned due to logistical disruption, while hiring staff was delayed by restriction of movement. “We are now looking at mid-September to have started operations, because everything is in place – raw materials are on the ground, and machines are already installed,” he told The New Times. Madari noted that they had containers of raw materials at Dar-es-Salaam port in Tanzania, which were delayed for more than two months, affecting their initial plans. The company is currently in the hiring process. “We have started the hiring process, and some of the expatriates were supposed to be here already but the airport just opened recently,” Madari noted. 80% Rwandan staff The plan is to hire 80 per cent Rwandans and 20 per cent expatriates who will also train locals as part of the knowledge and skills transfer. “We will be training locals for a period of at least one year to equip them with the right experience.” The plant will have an annual capacity to produce 800 million packets of tablets, 200 million capsules, 8 million bottles and 5 million Oral Rehydration Therapy (ORT) sachets at optimum capacity utilisation. The products will be used to prevent and treat a wide range of medical conditions, including malaria, HIV/AIDS, Tuberculosis, Hepatitis, heart diseases, diabetes, malnutrition, and women’s and children’s health and chronic pain conditions. Drug deficit Initial estimates showed that Apex Biotech’s presence could trim Rwanda’s drug import bill by 10 to 20 per cent, especially in the first phase of manufacturing which will include production of antibiotics. Rwanda currently imports all medical drugs consumed on the local market, which has contributed to the rising trade deficit. The country’s trade deficit stood at $1,538.9 million last year from $215.5 million from the previous year, according to the National Bank of Rwanda. Between January and May this year alone, the country’s trade deficit increased by 4.8 per cent as compared to last year. Giovanni Davite, the co-owner of Kipharma, a pharmaceutical distribution firm, believes the presence of a pharmaceutical factory will benefit the country as it will make it less dependent on imports of pharmaceuticals. “The local manufacturing could become a source of income once they start exporting, most likely to neighboring countries,” he weighed in, insisting that the country should focus on producing high value products. “Rwanda should focus on producing high added value products like anti-cancer products. But also produce basic products for the population, such as antibiotics,” he said. According to Madari who is the companys Executive Director, the plan is to produce 34 medical drugs and scale up as the market widens. “We are starting with 10 and will gradually add more and also the capacity/scale as time goes on,” he said. “Within six months we shall be producing all the 34 items at much higher scale.” The 34 drugs were approved by Rwanda FDA and are those that are believed to have high demand on the market. About 25 million tablets and capsules combined will be produced at the initial stage. This includes the likes of Amoxicillin, Cloxacillin, Paracetamol, Diclofenac, Albendazole, Trimethoprim, Azithromycine, Ciprofloxacin, Artemether, and Doxycycline. Apex Biotech does not only target the domestic market, but also the East African Community and central African markets. They see Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), Congo Brazzaville, Central African Republic, Angola, and Mozambique as potential markets.