In November 2021, Bangladesh-based Beximco Pharmaceuticals made international headlines with the launch of the world’s first generic molnupiravir, an oral antiviral drug for the treatment of patients with mild to moderate forms of COVID-19. Developed by U.S. firms Merck, Sharp & Dohme (MSD) and Ridgeback Biotherapeutics, molnupiravir represents a major breakthrough in addressing the world’s current greatest health challenge, with interim data published by MSD showing that it reduces the risk of hospitalisation and death by around 50%. Beximco’s branded generic version of molnupiravir is being marketed as Emorivir.
This follows on from Beximco’s May 2020 launch, at the height of the pandemic, of the world’s first generic version of remdesivir—branded as Bemsivir—an antiviral drug developed by U.S. firm Gilead Sciences that has been effective in treating COVID-19 patients.
Beximco was allowed to produce these generic copies under a pharmaceutical patent waiver granted by the WTO’s Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS) for the least developed countries. The company, which is considered a pioneer in providing access to breakthrough drugs at affordable prices, leveraged its competitive cost advantages and strong experience to be able to make these potentially life-saving treatment options at substantially cheaper prices than the originator brands.
“Further to our launch of the first generic remdesivir at the start of the pandemic, the launch of a generic version of molnupiravir is another example of Beximco Pharma’s ability to rapidly respond to make affordable treatments available to patients suffering from COVID-19,” said Nazmul Hassan MP, Managing Director of Beximco Pharmaceuticals. “This is a great achievement for the company and one which we believe could play an important role in combating the pandemic, especially in low- and middle-income countries where access to vaccines has been limited.”
Over the past 12 months, Beximco has provided Bemsivir to public and private healthcare facilities in Bangladesh, and has also donated large quantities of the drug in several other countries. To date, the company has supplied Bemsivir to 22 countries including India, Azerbaijan, Pakistan, Nigeria, the Philippines, Venezuela and Lebanon.
Exports to 50 Countries
Founded in 1978, Beximco started out importing medicines from multinational corporations (MNCs) such as U.S.-based Upjohn and Germany’s Bayer, before manufacturing the drugs locally under license. Today, Beximco has emerged as a leading exporter of medicines, with a global footprint in 50 countries around the world. Its success story is built on its unwavering commitment to quality and the dedication of its 5,000-strong workforce, driven by the company’s aspiration to be among the world’s most admired pharmaceutical companies.
Beximco began its export operations in 1992, exporting active pharmaceutical ingredients (APIs) to Hong Kong, with Russia becoming its first export destination for formulation products the following year. Since then, the company has gradually expanded its overseas business, entering Singapore, one of the most stringent markets in Asia, in 2001. As a testament to its success, the company has won Bangladesh’s prestigious National Export Trophy (Gold) five times for its outstanding contribution to the country’s export.
Spanning an area of 23 acres in Dhaka, Bangladesh, Beximco’s state-of-the-art manufacturing facilities have been accredited by regulatory authorities in Australia, Canada, Europe, the Middle East and the U.S., among others. Through these facilities, the company has made great strides in its ability to produce high-quality drugs at prices up to 99% cheaper than their branded counterparts, thus making treatments and medicines accessible to millions of patients in developing countries.
In 2015, the company launched the world’s first generic version of Harvoni (Sofosbuvir plus Ledipasvir), the revolutionary drug to treat hepatitis C, and began selling it for around US$10 versus the originator’s price of US$1,130. It did the same when it launched the generic version of another groundbreaking hepatitis C drug, Sovaldi (Sofosbuvir).
Out-of-pocket expenditure accounts for the bulk of the healthcare expenses in most low- and middle-income countries where access to breakthrough and highly expensive treatments is almost impossible. Since the beginning of the pandemic, there has been an urgent need to find immediate solutions or medical interventions to save human lives. Rising to the challenge, in November 2020, Beximco and 17 leading global generic drug companies pledged to work together via the United Nations-backed Medicines Patent Pool (MPP) to accelerate access to COVID-19 treatments for low- and middle-income countries. Among the other signatories to the MPP pledge are world-leading generic manufacturers such as Lupin, Aurobindo Pharma, Zydus Cadila, Dr. Reddy’s Laboratories, Sun Pharmaceutical Industries and Celltrion.
Bangladesh’s pharmaceutical industry has been at the forefront of driving the nation’s progress, with the country transforming itself from a net importer of medicines to an exporting nation over the past three decades—and Beximco has played a pioneering role. At present, Beximco is the country’s sole exporter of medicines to the U.S., which is also the largest export market for the company.
Looking to the future, Beximco aims to strengthen its presence in key emerging and developed markets. The company is also building a robust pipeline of value-added generic products for these markets, including a differentiated portfolio of metered dose inhalers, dry-powder inhalers and sterile ophthalmics. By collaborating with leading MNCs, it has developed new skills and conceived and implemented advanced, state-of-the-art technologies.
Rising healthcare costs have become a major challenge globally, with the high cost of medicines a serious concern for governments around the world. To address this, governments are promoting the use of generic drugs, which creates huge opportunities for generic drug producers like Beximco.
With its robust and highly compliant infrastructure, cost competitiveness, diverse portfolio and skilled manpower, Beximco has already emerged as an important generic drug player in Asia. As patents for branded or originator drugs expire, Beximco will be able to reinforce its differentiated value proposition, taking the opportunity to produce generic versions at significant scale and at a much lower cost, touching the lives of millions around the world by providing affordable access to life-saving medicines.
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