GlaxoSmithKline (GSK) has won its four-year battle to start packaging drugs in Iraq by outsourcing production to a local company.
The British pharma giant has made an agreement with local firm Modern Drug Industries, for fill and finish production at its Baghdad facilities.
Though the firm has not yet ironed out all the creases – to an extent where GSK still does not know what it will be producing there – it is confident the project will be a success.
And a GSK spokesperson told in-PharmaTechnologist that if all goes to plan, it may consider setting up a more permanent solution.
The spokesperson said: “The whole thing will happen over a long period of time. It’s a slow burning process – a step wise project.
“We’ve been trying to establish roots in Iraq for four years now, and it’s only within the past 18 months that we’ve been able to make sufficient progress.
“We will transfer expertise and knowledge and we might advance further, but at the moment it’s just working with a local company.
“As with any company we get involved with, they must be up to speed with not only GSK standards, but also GMP (good manufacturing practice).
“That’s why we need to make more of an advancement to make sure they have these steps in place. It’s still fairly early doors yet though, and we’re still finalising the agreement.”
Although GSK admits work is needed to meet its criteria, it says it will not resort to bringing in outside work forces.
“I think there’s going to be some work needed to get the expertise up to scratch. It’s a bit early to tell what we will be making.
“We will be working with a lot of companies to do this, but we won’t be bringing a work force in from abroad. We are working in Iraq and we want to hire within Iraq.”
The company has taken what it admits to be an unusual move operating within such a turbulent country.
However the GSK spokesperson was keen to stress the importance of providing quality healthcare to everybody, regardless of location.
The firm also believes that Iraq is a growing market, and is an excellent opportunity for growth.
“There is a good opportunity for growth in Iraq. There has been a lack of good healthcare, but it’s now improving thanks to better security measures,” the spokesperson told us.
“Iraq has a large population and it’s growing. But there is a lot of health care infrastructure remaining from pre-war days.
“But I think Iraq is very invested in its health care system now. It is clearly very important to the government there, who have recently pumped a lot of money into it.
“There is a need for good quality medications, and an opportunity for GSK as a leading company already well-established in the Middle East.”
The spokesperson added: “I think it’s worth saying that we’ve operated in Iraq for 20 years but mostly through the Ministry of Health or through tenders.
“This is about taking what we’ve got and advancing it, and taking advantage of the growth opportunities there.
“There is also the opportunity to bring the health care into the country that hasn’t been there for some time.
“As always, what it comes down to is the fact that GSK want to make medicine available to everyone no matter where it is.
“Although it is challenging to work in Iraq, that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t bring really good healthcare to the people.”
GSK believes itself to be one of the first Western companies to set up shop in Iraq.
But with hurdles at every stage of the process – from shipping, to quality control, to distribution – it is perhaps unsurprising that many have not seen the country as a viable option for business before.
However the company is certain that this is about to change.
The spokesperson said: “I’m not aware of other companies who have signed that kind of agreement in Iraq. For a multi-national pharma company though, we are definitely one of the first to go down this route.
“That’s not to say other companies aren’t looking, but we’re further ahead.
“I would speculate this is because it is so difficult to work within the country. We’ve spent years setting this up, and other company would face similar problems.
“We are already well established in the Middle East, have been operating there a long time and it’s put us in a good position; we have a historical relationship there. But I think we will see more companies establishing themselves in Iraq.”