How did the merger come about?

It is the marriage of two companies. We started Kiara just over a year ago with the vision of becoming a pan-African pharmaceutical company. We decided we needed a platform, ready-made, with local manufacturing as a core element of our strategy. Specpharm is a South African generic company, with a fairly good pipeline and an established platform. They were looking to go into the rest of Africa – a core strength for us. They were looking to diversify from pure generics into consumer health, medical technologies and devices.

Dr Skhumbuzo Ngozwana, CEO of Kiara Health

How do the two companies complement each other?

Kiara has access to a superb pipeline. We have signed up products from Europe, from the US, from South Korea. We are going to continue to build on that using our networks. At the same time, Specpharm has the local manufacturing competency and contract manufacturing for multinationals, so the quality is there. They have products that are registered in other parts of the continent, but they have not been commercialised.

So, Specpharm brings in the manufacturing expertise, the established platform, we bring in the pipeline, the experience, knowledge and expertise of the African continent. It’s a very synergistic marriage.

What products are your focus?

We have a few core therapeutic areas. We are looking at oncology, respiratory, infectious diseases, cardio-metabolic, CNS, as well as GIT. There are a number of reasons why we have chosen these categories.  We’ve looked at the sub-Saharan disease landscape – the priority and emerging areas. If you take oncology, there are more than 1m cases of cancer annually. There are still some significant challenges when it comes to treatment, access to drugs, and the right quality of drugs.

In terms of cardio-metabolic, there are 18-20m cases of diabetes in Africa every year. There are over 60m people who have hypertension. These numbers are growing, as diagnosis improves.

These are areas where there is great, unmet need in Africa. We are able to bring in technologies and medical products from the West to assist with meeting that need.

What can doctors look forward to from the company?

We have a very exciting pipeline but the challenge is going through the regulatory process, which takes some time. In the meantime, we have some very interesting diagnostic technologies for GPs and pharmacy practices that allow quick diagnosis of allergies, glycosylated haemoglobin test – a growing battery of tests that can be done in the GPs office or pharmacy. These tests are exploding throughout Europe. The ultimate new test under development is a sepsis test that would be able to tell you very quickly if someone has developed a bacterial infection. This is the next iteration of this technology platform.

We are bringing in other technology products. We have a robotic device that disinfects hospitals. It has been rolled out across the globe. It is in the US where it was developed, and is in Europe and Japan. It has been proven in clinical trials – more than 30 published papers show that where it is deployed, the number of healthcare-associated infections reduces dramatically. We are bringing in that and a couple of other technologies that we are working on. – wound management systems, diagnostic systems.

We are going to bring a differentiated portfolio of products that will address unment medical needs, or assist healthcare professionals to diagnose quickly and get people onto treatment quickly.

We talk about being there through the entire patient journey. We believe that in future, successful companies will go beyond just selling a pill. It will be those that partner with healthcare stems to offer holistic solutions.

We are working towards positive health outcomes. Positive health outcomes don’t end when the drug hits the pharmacy shelf. It has to go beyond that and involve patient education. It has to look at issues of counterfeits, which are a major problem in Africa. What technology do we bring on board to deal with those?

It’s a broad and holistic aspiration, but we believe that the time is now for that, and we believe that we have the right team to deliver on that promise.

What challenges do you foresee in the next 5 years?

I think that broadly, healthcare systems are facing significant challenges. The regulatory landscape worldwide is uncertain, for a number of reasons. As science develops, the nature of the products that we bring to the market and the ability to determine what is safe and not safe – the complexity is increasing. Regulatory systems have to keep up with that. By necessity, the burden put on companies to prove that their products are safe and effective is increasing as well – as it should. When you put a product on the market, you need to be sure that it will not cause harm.

The competitive landscape now is very different to 50 years ago. There are so many competitors. These are not just the traditional competitors like other pharma companies. You have retails – people who were historically your customers – are now getting into the field with house brands. The whole landscape is changing.

What you find is there changes are happening in healthcare systems that are constrained. Health budgets are shrinking, he need is increasing. Governments and payers are constantly looking for better outcomes with a shrinking budget, placing significant pressure on manufacturers. For a healthcare company like us, the key challenges and opportunities is the local manufacturing issue, which is gaining momentum not just in SA but across the continent. It is something that we want to invest in and develop. The reality is that you are competing with companies from the East that benefit from significant government assistance and incentives. It won’t be easy be we are up for the fight and we know we will ultimately prevail.