Roche is expanding its footprint in Africa with a new strategy designed to tap into the “growing economic might of the continent and potential to do business in”.

Noting that Africa has seen an average GDP growth of about 5% a year since 2005, Peter Hug, Head EEMEA Region Pharma, said the new strategy strives to increase access to Roche’s treatments for patients in Sub-Saharan Africa (SSA) while creating “an attractive and long-term sustainable business opportunity” for the firm.

Broadly speaking, the plan is to secure the treatment of an extra 56,000 patients in SSA by 2020, with work initially focusing on seven countries but ultimately expanding to 20. Disease areas of focus include viral hepatitis and cancers in women such as breast cancer, cervical cancer and ovarian cancer, as these affect a large number of patients in the region.

An Africa Strategy Implementation Team will provide regional coordination and support to the participating countries which will develop and submit proposals for new initiatives to drive patient access in their markets, the Swiss drug giant said, but also noted there remain significant hurdles to be overcome.

Lack of specialists, data and funds

“Most of these countries do not have enough medical specialists and the quality of many healthcare institutions is poor. Governments are not able to prioritise cancer treatment and their expertise in biologics is extremely limited,” said Charles Fordjour, Head Africa Strategy Implementation Team. 

Lack of local prevalence data, supply chain uncertainties and limited funding to healthcare are also significant obstacles, as is rising competition from other multinational drugmakers. Nevertheless, with an estimated population of 1.3 billion by 2020, and an expected per capita pharma spend of $40 by this time, Roche maintains “there’s a lot to look forward to”.