- – Earlier this year, impact-first investment company AlphaTalents Africa (ATA) took a majority stake in Pharmakina, a landmark pharmaceutical company headquartered in Bukavu, DRC since 1942.
- – ATA’s ambition is for Pharmakina to become the leading contributor to DRC’s fight against malaria and a major pharmaceutical company on the African continent.
- – In order to deliver on its ambition, ATA appointed a new CEO, Gurpreet Singh Kang, in July 2023. Mr. Kang’s experience spans manufacturing and agri-business industries in France, the USA and Nigeria.
Mauritius, 14 November 2023: Impact-first investment company AlphaTalents Africa (ATA) is on track to bolster Pharmakina as one of the main driving forces in DRC’s fight against malaria, a life-threatening disease affecting tens of millions of Congolese citizens each year.
Pharmakina, which is based in the South Kivu province’s capital city of Bukavu, runs the only quinine-based anti-malaria drugs manufacturing plant in Africa and delivers more than 10 million malarial cures per year to the domestic market. Incidentally, Pharmakina also manufactures premium quinine salts for the global beverages industry, which are used mainly as an ingredient in the production of tonic.
“Ultimately, our vision at AlphaTalents Africa is for Pharmakina to become the leading African producer of natural medicine that counters the pressing healthcare scourge of malaria, as well as ethically sourced health and food ingredients that earn valuable foreign exchange for the continent,” notes Roland Decorvet, Founder and Managing Partner, ATA.
ATA’s first decision as Pharmakina’s new majority shareholder was to recruit and appoint a new CEO, Gurpreet Singh Kang, who has been tasked with driving the company’s future growth and ambitious impact agenda. Mr. Kang was previously Chief Financial Officer of a Nigerian diversified investment group operating across several verticals including food, agribusiness, and consumer goods. He relocated to Bukavu from Lagos in February 2023 and took over Pharmakina’s reins from outgoing CEO Étienne Erny July 1st, after a prolonged handover period. Mr. Erny, after having spent over three-and-a-half decades at Pharmakina, has been appointed as a non-executive member of the company’s board of directors and as such will remain an active contributor to Pharmakina’s future success.
What AlphaTalents Africa’s investment in Pharmakina means for Africa
Pharmakina was created under the name ‘Congokina’ in 1942, acquired by Boehringer Mannheim, a German pharmaceutical company, in 1961 and re-structured in 1999 after a management buy-out by the company’s executives.
“More than 80% of the world cinchona tree population is located in DRC, and Pharmakina creates material added value to the DRC economy by sourcing and processing cinchona tree bark locally to produce a medicine vital to the country. By doing so, Pharmakina not only contributes significantly to the fight against malaria but also supports DRC agriculture,” emphasises Mr. Kang.
However, Pharmakina only processes 20% of the bark harvested each year in DRC while 80% is exported as a raw material to Asia where it is processed and sold back to Africa as medicine, stacking up its costs and making it barely affordable for the more vulnerable African citizens. At the same time, quinine is facing a rising tide of competition from synthetic Artemisinin-based combination therapies (ACT) that are increasingly being promoted as the go-to anti-malaria treatment by the WHO. However, the global production of ACT drugs is concentrated in Asia, leading to an increased risk on supply reliability for Africa, besides placing the drugs out of reach, both in terms of access and affordability, for local households.
“Despite Africa heavily importing medicines from Asia, there is still a huge gap between supply and demand of malaria medicines in the region. In DRC, even ACTs and quinine-based drugs combined are not able to fulfil the demand for malaria medicines. We are working hard to increase Pharmakina’s production capacity and are coordinating with our local distributors to make it available even in DRC’s remotest areas. In addition, our R&D team is working on developing new and more efficient products using a bi-therapy model where we can combine quinine with other medicines such as antibiotics and artemisinin in one tablet,” elaborates Mr. Kang.
What malaria means for Africa, and how Pharmakina helps counter this scourge
Africa continues to carry a disproportionately high share of the global malaria burden. The latest World malaria report found that it was home to about 95% of 247 mn malaria cases and 96% of the 619,000 deaths in 2021, with children under 5 accounting for about 80% of local malaria deaths.
Moreover, the regional concentration within Africa is high with four countries taking the burden of over half of all deaths worldwide: Nigeria (31.3%), the DRC (12.6%), Tanzania (4.1%) and Niger (3.9%). As Mr. Kang explains, many other African countries like Kenya, Burundi, Uganda, Tanzania, Congo Brazzaville and Zambia, where the scourge of malaria is high, buy quinine salts from Pharmakina and locally manufactured finished products which are distributed for their national malaria medicine needs.
Incidentally, Mr. Kang was motivated to join Pharmakina due to his own brush with malaria whilst in Nigeria, that made him realise first hand just how deadly and debilitating this disease can be.
“I spent 12 days in the hospital and received numerous medicines including artemisinin. When my situation did not improve, the doctors finally gave me quinine which saved my life. Hence, the opportunity to join Pharmakina was extremely exciting for me, because I knew that its products have a huge potential to save millions of lives,” he soberingly remarks.
Local value-added processing – creating employment, transforming lives
Pharmakina, as the largest private employer in South Kivu, materially contributes to social and economic progress in the province. The company purchases raw material from thousands of smallholder cinchona cultivators across South and North Kivu and is engaged in the development of a support program to help the cultivators improve their agricultural practices and, ultimately, the yield of their plantations and the quality of the bark acquired by Pharmakina.
“Pharmakina has more than 400 direct employees while 1000+ households are indirectly dependent upon our operations. Pharmakina has 18 owned plantations of cinchona trees in both South and North Kivu regions of DRC and indirectly supports thousands of small-scale farmers by sourcing their produce. We are also planning to set up a new manufacturing unit in North Kivu which will increase the employment opportunities in the region,” notes Mr. Kang.
ATA partner Bastien Maucet explains that one of Pharmakina’s strategic objectives is to obtain an advanced global certification on the quality of the pharmaceutical products manufactured by the Bukavu plant. “Only a handful of manufacturing sites have the advanced certification that Pharmakina is aspiring towards, and this would exponentially increase market demand for our locally manufactured medicines,” he remarks.
How ATA is set to deepen Pharmakina’s agri-processing and healthcare impact
Going forward, ATA has robust plans in place to expand employment by increasing capacity and whetting further appetite for locally processed products.
Towards this end, Mr. Kang has been meeting various authorities in the DRC, including, among others, the governor of the South Kivu province, the Minister of Industry, and the Minister of the National Economy.
“The intention is to convince the authorities that local manufacturing must be supported. DRC has this unique gift from nature in the form of cinchona trees, and Pharmakina has all the capabilities to process this raw material within the country. Then why should other countries get to import and process this raw material out of Africa and send the finished goods back to us when we have the wherewithal to do it ourselves and create so much impact on the ground in the process? All the authorities we have met so far are very supportive and have assured us of their help,” Mr. Kang notes.
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Roland Decorvet, Founder & Managing Partner
Bastien Maucet, Partner
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