The Chinese company Sinovac Biotech, which makes a Covid-19 vaccine, is going to start producing Plasma-Derived Medical Products (PDMP) in Bangladesh with an investment of Tk5,000 crore.
The medicine is used in the treatment of various complicated diseases. The company has taken a licence from the government and incorporated the Sinovac Biotech (Bangladesh) Ltd, sources at the Bangladesh Investment Development Authority (Bida) said.
Blood plasma collection is set to begin by March or April next year, company sources said. The plasma will be used for fractionation – a process that separates blood plasma into its different components to be used to produce medicines such as immunoglobulins. It is expected that eight types of medicines for various diseases will be made from this.
Kevin Zhang, general manager of Sinovac Biotech (Bangladesh) Ltd, told The Business Standard, "Bangladesh is one of the most important targeted countries to produce and manufacture plasma-based medicine. Before coming to Bangladesh, we have already established some branches in South America, Chile, Colombia and Turkey. We plan to establish more branches in different countries over the world."
He said there were plans for Pakistan, Indonesia and Thailand.
"Every year the government needs to spend a lot of foreign currency to import plasma products. In Bangladesh, 100% of plasma-based products are imported. Secondly, most low- and middle-income countries like Bangladesh do not have the capacity and ability to manufacture such products.
"We realise Bangladesh has a lot of capacity and ability to meet demand, so we decided to establish a branch here," Kevin Zhang said.
He also said apart from the three-year first phase, more investment will be made in the coming years.
Zhang highlighted that the investment would enhance local expertise in the plasma industry, create jobs, save and create foreign currency, reduce the cost of purchasing plasma for local patients and accelerate the growth of the gross domestic product.
Dr Md Ashadul Islam, chairman of the Department of Transfusion Medicine, Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujib Medical University (BSMMU), told TBS that through plasma therapy, effective antibodies are transferred to the body.
The plasma contains many types of antibodies. When someone is infected with a disease, this type of antibody protein is produced against that virus or bacteria. The protein forms a kind of coating around the bacteria and renders it useless, he said.
Analysts said even though there is a demand for plasma-based medicine in Bangladesh, all these have to be imported.
Drug importers said over Tk2,000 crore of plasma-based medicine is imported from different countries each year.
These include medicines for immunodeficiency, autoimmune infections and idiopathic diseases.
The treatment of Covid-19, influenza, foot and mouth diseases, HIV and cancer also requires plasma-based medicines.
"A plasma fractionation plant is quite necessary as different fractions of plasma – albumin, globulin, etc – are required for the treatment of cancer, liver diseases and some other ailments. If we can achieve this capability – biological separation – and market those, we do not have to depend on imports only," biomedical scientist and educationalist Professor Liaquat Ali told TBS in an earlier conversation.
Almost 75% of albumin is produced in the United States and the remaining 25% is produced in other parts of the world. If the United States stopped exporting albumin outside their country, there would be an albumin crisis in the world. So each country tries to build a plasma plant in their own country, said Dr Ashraful Huq, assistant professor of the blood transfusion department at Sheikh Hasina Burn and Plastic Surgery Institute, who set up the first plasma bank in the country for treating Covid-19 patients.
Important medicines from plasma include Immunoglobulin-VF (Preventing haemolytic disease of the newborn and for Rh-negative pregnant mothers), Intramuscular Immunoglobulin (immunisation against hepatitis A, measles and poliomyelitis), albumin (to treat patients suffering from shock due to blood loss), Intravenous Immunoglobulin IVIg (for some primary immune deficiency disorders), Antithrombin concentrate ( to prevent blood clots during surgery or childbirth) and Factor IX concentrate (to treat patients with inherited bleeding condition haemophilia B).
The researcher said the medicines are all imported.
After the start of Covid-19, plasma was used to treat patients, but no plasma-based medicine was produced in Bangladesh, despite the demand.
BSMMU's Dr Ashadul Islam called for research and evaluation before going into commercial production.
If any domestic or foreign organisation wants to commercially collect, supply or import-export plasma, it must comply with the laws of the country and proper monitoring by the government should be ensured, he added.
Additionally, the production of the Covid-19 vaccine will be another boost for Bangladesh, as the country would no longer have to rely on donations.
The raw material would be imported and given to Sinovac, which will produce the vaccine.
According to the proposal of Sinovac Biotech (Bangladesh) Ltd submitted to Bida, at least 20 plasma banks and cold storage rooms will be built across the country by the beginning of next year.
The plan is to have the banks in 20 districts, all of which will follow European standards.
The target is to produce 300 tonnes of PDMPs annually in the first phase. Gradually, they want to increase the production up to 1,000 tonnes or more depending on demand.
Production will start by 2025 and it will be made available in markets by 2026.
Mohsina Yasmin, an executive member of International Investment Promotion, Bida, said Sinovac Biotech (Bangladesh) Ltd has received approval from Bida and is working with the health ministry and other stakeholders.
According to a Sinovac Biotech (Bangladesh) source, it has set up its head office in the capital's Gulshan area.
Including the recruitment of doctors, nurses and technicians, a total of 1,000 jobs will be created.
Allotment of space in one of the economic zones near the capital is underway for setting up a large-scale institute for plasma-based medicine manufacturing.
In August, Oryx Bangladesh announced investments of $300 million to set up the country's first biotech industry in Bangabandhu Hi-Tech City at Kaliakoir, Gazipur, to produce biotech products from human plasma.