Pan-African Plasma-Derived Medicines
Focused on delivering human plasma-derived medicinal products to an international client base, we take a look at the National Bioproducts Institute and discuss the how and why behind the company’s non-profit mission
Writer: Marcus Kääpä | Project Manager: Callam Waller
Established in 1994 as a pharmaceutical manufacturing business in the African healthcare space, National Bioproducts Institute (NBI) has come a long way.
Today, the company operates as a private, non-profit entity based outside Durban, South Africa, with a core focal business relating to the pharmaceutical manufacture of human plasma-derived medicinal products; a range that includes clotting factors, immunoglobulins, albumin solutions and solvent detergent treated dried plasma.
“We also develop and manufacture diagnostic kits and diagnostic monoclonal antibodies used in the South African and international markets,” begins Shanay Singh, Head of Business Development at NBI. “We are Africa’s only plasma fractionator. We supply products via our own sales and marketing efforts as well as through our partners in other countries to business clients and patients all over the world, such as those in the US, China, India, France, and Australia.
“We are only able to achieve this level of business through our dedicated workforce. There are over 270 employees that drive NBI to be what it is; they are the gears behind the company.”
NBI’s comprehensive range of plasma-derived medicinal products are registered with the South African regulatory authority, the South African Health Products Regulatory Authority (SAHPRA). Several of these are listed in the South African Essential Medicines List as well as the World Health Organisation’s Essential Drug List.
“Being a non-profit company gives us a really unique perspective in the industry,” Singh explains. “We are able to put the patients’ needs first, witness their responses to the company, and direct all of our efforts towards specific needs that derive from this. At the same time, we invest in our employees, which really allows our mission to flow and allows us to provide quality and life-saving products to more patients across more locations.”
Throughout the trying period that has seen the vast industry impacts stemming from the COVID-19 pandemic, the international healthcare sector has been pushed into higher gear. Despite this, NBI has been able to operate more or less as they had prior to the pandemic.
“We’ve been lucky and fortunate enough to have experienced incredible stability during this time,” Singh reflects. “I think that this has been due to the nature of our products being used for, in many cases, rare diseases. But we have tried to play our part during this period, firstly by continuing to support our patients with pharmaceutical needs during the pandemic, but also through joining the COVID-19 Plasma Alliance that saw major plasma fractionators across the globe investigate the use of immunoglobulins in the treatment of the virus.”
Expertise in the field
Another side to NBI’s help during the pandemic has been the support it has provided its staff. As the backbone of the company, and as the key individuals that collectively oversee and make happen the manufacturing of human plasma-derived medicinal products, NBI has recognised the importance of employee safety and welfare and has acted with such in mind.
“Certainly, from an employee perspective we have sought to support staff as much as possible,” Singh affirms. “Most of our non-manufacturing staff, those who didn’t need to be in the office and worked remotely, we have always ensured that they have the correct equipment and whatever else they need.
“NBI has always offered employee wellness services, and this has overall been very successful. The company has not had a single day of production loss which we are very grateful for, and this largely comes down to the dedication of our employees, especially during this period.”
For NBI, these dedicated individuals are a primary asset and very difficult to find. As Africa’s only plasma fractionator, fractionation experience becomes a rare commodity within the continent and sector.
“I believe that we are quite fortunate in that many of our employees have stayed with us for decades,” Singh tells us. “In general, we have a very high retention rate. Many of our people stay with us for decades across the business regardless of the levels of seniority, and this low employee turnover rate enhances the retention of knowledge, skill, expertise and familiarity.
“We are only able to achieve this level of business through our dedicated workforce”
“But where we have open positions, it can sometimes become difficult to find people to fill them. We begin with internal promotion first, where possible, and then we look externally. Whoever we recruit, we do so with potential in mind and we are investing in their personal and professional growth to reach the level that is required by the business.”
NBI ensures that it makes and retains key suppliers in order to continue providing its client base with its human plasma-derived medicinal products. Due to the company’s unique place in the industry and the continent, strong and reliable supplier partnerships are vital to this continuation.
“We have strong relationships with our existing suppliers in this regard,” Singh says. “These are critical when it comes to securing materials and adding revenue streams to the business.
“NBI also has been involved with programmes that work with blood services in various countries across Africa, working alongside them to secure high quality plasma to help enhance and meet quality standards that provide accreditation for industry use. We generally try and collaborate as much as possible to secure plasma and supply partners.”
“We are able to put the patients’ needs first”
Moving forward in healthcare
Since its inception, NBI has traditionally been a product-oriented company. But moving forward, NBI is taking the opportunity to offer its clients a new range of services to best help those who need it.
“We have a whole new suite of service offerings that we are going to launch soon,” Singh elaborates. “These new services present a huge opportunity for us, both in terms of the expertise we can deliver but also in supporting the local and international pharmaceutical companies that are in search of such service providers.”
NBI is aiming to introduce a multitude of different offers, from contract manufacturing and biotech services to sales and marketing, enabling the company to provide its clients with a greater calibre of options.
“Contract manufacturing will regard sterile products that have seen a rather high demand, especially among corporate clients,” Singh informs us. “Our suite of biotech services that we are able to offer includes custom antibody creation and manufacture.
“We are also hoping to add value to our clients through our strong sales and marketing presence. This will additionally consist of a greater focus on partnerships and promotional products in South Africa through the division. NBI works with many different medical groups and so we will be able to offer sales and marketing support to these people.”
These expansion plans will bring great value to NBI’s patients both in South Africa and globally, with a focus on a number of areas such as introducing new products and the growth of supply for existing products; an aim that aligns with the company’s three-to-five-year goal of bettering the health of patients internationally.