South Africa is set to save billions of rands it currently spends on importing active pharmaceutical ingredients (APIs) with the launch of the API Technology Innovation Cluster.
APIs are the biologically active components used to make finished pharmaceutical products such as tablets and capsules, and South Africa's heavy reliance on API imports is one of the factors behind the high cost of health care locally. The country currently spends approximately R15 billion a year on imported APIs.
The API Technology Innovation Cluster is an initiative of the Department of Science and Innovation (DSI), the Department's entity, the Technology Innovation Agency (TIA), and North-West University (NWU), and will also involve other universities and industry players.
The cluster will focus on the synthesis of small-molecule APIs for human health using innovative and world-class processing technology, thus enabling the creation of a dynamic local pharmaceutical manufacturing industry and positioning the country as a strategic regional API manufacturing hub.
The launch of the cluster will be accompanied by the unveiling of a state-of-the-art laboratory in Pretoria that will be accessible to universities and other stakeholders.
Establishing a local API capability has been a priority of the government since the country first embarked on the large-scale roll-out of government-sponsored antiretroviral (ARV) treatment for people infected with HIV/AIDS. Besides the need to enhance the security of supply of critical drugs, addressing the imbalance of imports versus exports in the sector, and improving industry competitiveness, were additional motivators for establishing an API cluster.
The cluster will also stimulate the growth of the bioeconomy. South Africa's Bio-economy Strategy sees health innovation as a vital for closing the gaps in the country's health sector, and calls for interventions in the areas of diagnostics, pharmaceutical manufacturing, and clinical research and development.