A diversified portfolio tailored to the market, key partnerships with ministries of health and regulators, and thinking long-term are key to securing share of US$40 billion market
22 October, Dubai: “Global, regional and local pharmaceutical firms operating in the Middle East, Turkey and Africa (META) region need to be able to ‘change the tires while driving' if they are to benefit from doing business in a challenging, but also highly rewarding market”, says Dr Ashraf Allam, VP of Mundipharma in the META region.
Doing business in the META region is not always straight forward, but if approached with the right strategy, the right team, and a willingness to quickly adapt to any challenges, companies will be able to successfully access a market worth US$40 billion annually with 1.4 billion customers.
“Compared to other emerging markets, META is still a profitable region with a large growing middle class of potential customers,” says Dr Allam.
“If you are doing business here, you need to rise to new challenges every day. I always say that you must be able to change the tires on your car while you're driving – you can't stop the car because no one will give you time, not your shareholders, not your headquarters, not your customers, but it needs to be done and you have to be always ready.” he added.
The hurdles facing companies either looking to enter or currently doing business in META, range from having to work through a multitude of complex and lengthy national regulatory and compliance rules, to working amidst political upheaval, sometimes and even conflicts.
“It's a very complex region with more than 50 markets,” says Dr Allam. “There are markets in good shape, some are building very well, then there are markets which suffer from political instability, where you can find tanks in the streets”.
“It can be extremely challenging from a political and economic point of view, but in the end you still need to find a reasonable and compliant way to do business” according to Dr. Allam.
Key to navigating the myriad challenges facing businesses is, says Dr Allam, hiring the right people.
“Invest in talent, bring in people who know the market and are able to have quick impact. And hire a mix. For sure you need staff with experience, sure, but mix it up with younger team members who have the hunger – energy is just as important as wisdom in a successful company.
“I don't tend to delegate when it comes to hiring and firing, especially for key positions. I'm proud of the fact that Mundipharma embraces Saudization as our team in Saudi Arabia is lead by our Saudi General Manager”.
While there is undoubtedly a wealth of talent in the region, finding and retaining the best people is another challenge that companies must learn to overcome.
“You're building a brand as much as selling products. You have to be able to attract the best talents because if you hire mediocre, you'll have mediocre results,” says Dr Allam.
Local knowledge is especially useful when navigating your way through the complicated government rules and regulations firms need to comply with to get a product to market.
“The business in this region requires you to build strong business relationships and partnerships with the key stakeholders,” says Dr Allam.
“This is where companies need to be able to adapt and be flexible. The most successful players in this market know how to adapt. They have locally adapted pricing and a customized strategy for each segment of the market.”
The dynamics of the market are continuing to evolve; firms from emerging markets join companies from Europe and America in competition with family-run businesses in the Middle East for a share of the region's profits and potential.
“A lot of people are now looking to enter the healthcare market, so it is extremely competitive, crowded and complex,” says Dr Allam. “The era of only multi-national companies operating in the market is over” he added.
Among the positive trends currently shaping the business landscape across the META region are improved timelines for regulatory approval and increased awareness and enforcement of rules related to intellectual property, especially in the GCC.
However, continued pressure on budgets has led to the introduction of wide-ranging cost containment measures in both the public and private sector limiting the government spending on healthcare.
“Companies are now seeing their profits come under increased pressure,” says Dr Allam. “In this economic environment profit margins and price competition is intense and it is proving difficult to pass on the rise in the otherwise regulated selling prices.
To tackle this, businesses can't afford to fall into short-termism. This is as dangerous as exiting a market and can be just as costly as entering. They need to focus on growing their market share, motivating their staff and out-innovating and out-smarting the competition.
“This region remains a brand loyal market, but firms cannot expect to lead the market automatically. They have to invest substantially in building their brand, even if it means lower profits initially.”
To drive success at a regional level, businesses must have a portfolio tailored to the market, build lasting relationships with ministries of health and regulators, and pay special attention to employing talent and building capacity, says Dr Allam.
“When it comes to individual countries, market access depends on your ability to ‘be local' and manufacture your products in that country. This is a common request these days, as every country expects you to manufacture there. Alternatively, however, wherever you can, you can access the market via imports.”
A good distribution network in the region is extremely important, says Dr Allam. While it can be hard sometimes to negotiate the right agreement with a financially sound distributor, it can result in increased, consistent and reliable countrywide coverage.
“Also, invest in awareness campaigns, educational activities from which physicians can learn more about brands that can help their patients, as well as developing partnerships with retail customers and hospitals to ensure they carry your products,” adds Dr Allam.
“I have heard many companies procrastinating about coming to the region. They pay for studies and carry out extensive research, but the fact is, as the saying goes, ‘you will never find oil if you don't drill'.
“Business is not done in power point slides – my advice is to take the risk, see the benefits and continue to innovate but; never, ever, become complacent.”