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Halal: accessing the untapped $30bn pharma market

By Fiona BARRY

- Last updated on GMT

Halal: not just about food (Picture: Marco Bellucci/Flickr)
Halal: not just about food (Picture: Marco Bellucci/Flickr)

Related tags: Gelatin, Pharmacology

The pharmaceutical industry must change its ingredients and manufacturing methods to cash in on the enormous purchasing power of European Muslims, says an expert.

The global halal market – including food and cosmetics – was worth $700bn (€553bn) in 2013, and an estimated $100-125bn this year, said Farhan Tufail, CEO of Halal Certification Services GmbH. Medicines hold a 27% share of these purchases, making halal pharma today a market of up to $34bn – and growing.

Although Muslims in Europe are fewer, their purchasing power is much higher than that of Muslims in Southeast Asia, the Middle East and Subsaharan Africa, with Turkey, Russia and France all coming in the top ten markets.

The pharma market is now developing processing lines for halal. They don’t know what the potential is and they’re starting with a few products – one line is halal, the other is not.​”

But as demand grows, and because halal pharmaceuticals are acceptable to non-Muslim consumers, manufacturers may come to delete or outsource their non-halal lines in future to save money, Tufail said.

Beyond gelatine

Halal Certifications Services (HCS), based in Switzerland, advises and certificates manufacturers of halal-compliant drugs. The key problem, said Tufail, is avoiding cross-contamination between halal and haram (non-halal) production lines.

Forbidden components include all porcine excipients, such as pork gelatine capsules, and bovine gelatine must come from halal sources. Emulsifiers, fillers, glycerine, rennet, enzymes in growth media, and anti-clotting agents also come under scrutiny.

Consumers are not only interested in halal ingredients and excipients. Processing aids and technical materials such as lubricants and cleaning products may need halal substitutions. Even workers using ethanol hand sanitizer can compromise products they come into contact with.

Life-saving dilemmas

In some cases, deciding what is and is not halal can be a theological dilemma. In the food industry, which Tufail said is some years ahead of pharma in halal provision and labelling, drinkable alcohol is not allowed, but ethanol is acceptable in products like orange juice when it is a natural by-product of fermentation.

The pharmaceutical industry is now beginning to consider the same dilemmas.

But there are limits,​” said Tufail. Standard cough syrups have high alcohol content and would not be acceptable to most halal consumers. “Every country you export to has its own regulations. In Egypt they won’t allow ethanol at all.​”

Biologics are another problematic area. Mammalian cell lines need to be certified halal, said Tufail, and human cells are absolutely forbidden as ingredients.

There are no halal biologics at the moment. But the pharma industry is developing – it will take some time to understand and come up with alternatives.​”

But that does not mean Muslims do not currently take biologics, he explained.

The Quran says if you are in a state of necessity, everything that is haram is halal.​” Exceptions can be made for life-saving treatment such as insulin or vaccines. An Ebola vaccine based on human antibodies could be administered to Muslims, just as the H1N1 injections was. However non-essential nutraceuticals do not fall under the rule. 

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