The Door is Open to Tackling Cancer in Africa

Calling Industry: The Door is Open to Tackling Cancer in Africa

Jim Greenwood
December 16, 2019

By 2040, experts say the number of yearly cancer cases in Africa will double. In 2018 alone, cancer deaths in Africa (over 530,000) were 30 percent higher than deaths from malaria. Clearly, a shift in disease burdens has taken place on the continent.

Biotechnology and pharmaceutical companies are taking notice. Companies, industry associations, and the public-sector are stepping in to partner with governments and healthcare leaders to fill Africa’s gaps in cancer diagnostic and treatment capabilities.

BIO’s partner organization, BIO Ventures for Global Health (BVGH), has taken a leadership role in catalyzing industry solutions to African’s cancer crisis. BVGH’s approach is unique in that they take their lead from African stakeholders on the ground. African leaders say this approach promotes sustainable development of their cancer control capabilities.

For companies dedicated to ensuring broad access to their life-saving cancer medicines, understanding the differences between high-income country cancer systems and the challenges of Africans is key to crafting solutions. When you speak to African oncologists, pathologists, and patient advocates, they paint a bleak picture for cancer patients in sub-Saharan Africa.

Dr. Faruk Mohammed, a cancer scientist in northern Nigeria puts it bluntly, “In Africa, cancer is just like a death sentence. More than 80 percent of the population in northern Nigeria cannot afford treatment. People are afraid to even come to the hospital for a diagnosis. They know that if they are informed that they have cancer, there is nothing they can do about it because they cannot afford the therapy.”

Africa’s governments want to change this narrative.

Six countries — Cameroon, Côte d’Ivoire, Kenya, Nigeria, Rwanda, and Senegal — have signed on to BVGH’s African Access Initiative. The initiative is partnering with ministries of health, regulatory and customs officials, policymakers, cancer hospitals, international oncology organizations, and industry to mobilize, build capacity, and drive access. With national cancer control plans in place, these six countries are articulating their patient and hospital needs. Sustainable and practical solutions that involve industry are central to scaling access in Africa.

Through the African Access Initiative, African leaders have identified four key needs where industry can join in mutually beneficial partnerships:

  1. Sustainable access to quality, affordable cancer medicines and technologies
  2. Strengthened healthcare infrastructure
  3. Increased clinical oncology capacity
  4. Expanded capacity for African sites to conduct cancer clinical trials

Clearly, areas such as affordability and access are complex and interdependent, with unique situations in each country. However, countries are taking action to address these issues and are engaging and encouraging industry involvement.

Nigeria joined the African Access Initiative in 2017 with a key goal to gain sustainable access to essential cancer medicines. Following a BVGH-coordinated cancer stakeholder meeting in 2018, BVGH and the Federal Ministry of Health issued requests for proposals for 41 prioritized cancer medicines covering eight cancer types. Major international pharmaceutical companies responded with deep discounts to their oncology medicines.

Leaders of Nigeria’s National Health Insurance Scheme are now discussing how to fund cancer treatment more broadly across the country — with BVGH bringing their sustainable drug access model and industry expertise to the conversation.

Entering these markets can pose many challenges and uncertainties, notes Jennifer Dent, BVGH’s president and CEO. An intermediary — such as BVGH — with deep market insights and formal connections to ministries of health and government agencies provides the critical link for industry.

Biotechnology and pharmaceutical companies looking to enter or expand into sub-Saharan Africa’s cancer space would do well to watch this recent interview with Jennifer Dent on Nigeria’s Arise TV. She discusses how the ingredients are all there in Nigeria for increased industry involvement.  

Until lately, information has been hard to come by for business decision-making around cancer in Africa. With movement from African countries toward providing universal health coverage, and the relationships and expertise of intermediaries such as BVGH, opportunities for industry are emerging.

Industry: Africa is calling. Now is the time to respond.

Contact BVGH’s Jennifer Dent to get involved: