A new pharmaceutical company in Rwanda, Leaf Rwanda, with ties to US-based company LEAF Pharmaceutical, plans to produce and sell a new cancer drug in the region, exploiting the gap in the acute lack of such drugs in the country and the continent generally.
Leaf Rwanda is seeking distribution deals of the new cancer drug to countries like Kenya – which is the leading importer of pharmaceuticals in East Africa -- as well as Tanzania and Uganda by April next year.
The firm is in the process of beginning clinical and large-scale commercial production of its LEAF-1404 drug, which is under production in the United States.
The drug, a complex generic version of Caelyx®/Doxil®, has been available for over 20 years in the US and Europe and is used in the treatment of ovarian and breast cancer and Kaposi Sarcoma. It is however not available in Africa, although 90 per cent of the Kaposi Sarcoma cases are reported from Africa.
“The cancer Kaposi Sarcoma, which emerges from complications affecting the immune system, especially triggered by viruses like HIV, has been wiped out in the US,” Dr Clet Niyikiza, a Rwandan scientist and founder of LEAF Pharmaceuticals told The EastAfrican.
“Most generic drugs imported into East Africa from India and China for the treatment of cancer are not authorised in North America and in some European countries. It is mainly because they do not meet the standards expected. Africa should also require the highest standards of such drugs.”
Rwanda now provides cancer care and diagnoses, mainly at the Butaro Cancer Centre.
Before the inauguration of the centre in 2012, cancer care was largely inaccessible for the vast majority of Rwandans and only the wealthy could afford treatment abroad.
Now Rwanda provides cancer care and treatment at five diagnostic and treatment centres. The centres offer cancer diagnosis, surgery and chemotherapy. Last year, Kanombe Military Hospital launched a radiotherapy centre to provide comprehensive cancer treatment.
CHEAPER DRUGS, EASY ACCESS
“We recognise it is an area we need to invest more, especially when it comes to early diagnosis, getting a patient at the third and fourth stage of cancer is not very helpful, so we need to invest more in early diagnostics and advanced treatment capacities, we need more laboratory equipment and development of the capacity of oncologists, but the education of the population about cancer is also very important," Dr Nsanzimana said.
In Kenya, cancer patients will have access to cheaper generic drugs in the fastest time possible, according to the Pharmacy and Poisons Board, Kenya’s drug regulator. This, the board said, will introduce and make available new drugs to patients who in the past paid more for access currently available drugs.
Through the, fast-tracking, Dr Fred Siyoi the PPB chief executive officer emphasized that the generics will be given priority and within three months they will be in the market, hence reducing the cost of treatment.
“The inspection and certification of the drugs takes 24 months but for cancer generic drugs, it will take only three months,” Dr Siyoi said.
By Ivan Mugisha, Moses Gahigi and Angela Oketch