Malaysia is getting old. And with the steady rise in life expectancies and fall in fertility rates, it seems like the country would continue to grey until it officially becomes an ageing nation by 2030.
While this may put a strain on public finance and social welfare systems, the private healthcare and pharmaceutical industries are looking at a rosy horizon for more revenues and business expansions in the country. In fact, a Fitch Solutions research revealed that driven by an ageing population, Malaysia will have its rising chronic disease burden as a key factor that will support the pharmaceutical market growth over a multi-year period.
Leonard Ariff, Group Managing Director of Duopharma Biotech Bhd, agrees. “I think the government is looking at trying to make drug costs more accessible. It will start to make Malaysia more self-sufficient when it comes to pharmaceuticals, which will necessitate having to manufacture more products in Malaysia,” Leonard says. “Hopefully, the government works with local producers in Malaysia. Duopharma is one of them and we try to encourage more products to be manufactured in a cost-effective manner domestically.”
In anticipation of future demand, the largest Malaysian pharmaceutical manufacturer and trading company spent RM300 million to expand its operations and productions, building new offices, warehouses, and factories in Klang and Bangi recently. For these capital outlays to see optimal productivity, the 1,400-strong company also aims to mechanise its operations in order to catch up with the swelling demand – not only medical drugs, but also in consumer healthcare – to ensure its profitability in a nation with a demographic number as small as Malaysia.
“We’re mechanising a lot more now. One of the issues in operating a pharmaceutical facility in Malaysia is needing a lot of products. It doesn’t mean just tablets. We have soft gel, haemodialysis concentrate, capsules and injectables,” he explains. “We’re also introducing a lot more technology. We have invested large sums into software to assist people to allow them to be more effective.”
Skilled workers are necessary to man these buildings, operate high-tech machines, and facilitate backroom support to ensure affordable medicines are enough to meet the needs of maturing citizens. To enable this, Duopharma plans to hire between 50 to 70 additional staff in medicine and drug manufacturing and backroom support – especially in areas such as regulatory, quality assurance, and quality control – every year.
With a low attrition rate of 10.9 percent, Leonard promises that Duopharma has created a competitive, dynamic and a nurturing environment that will guide fresh graduates to find their calling and get the right push to jumpstart their career in the healthcare and pharmaceutical industry.
"If you're good, the sky's the limit"
The profession that’s set to become more prominent? “Pharmacists. In the early days, we never had more than four pharmacists in a pharmaceutical factory but this is increasing now,” Leonard says. Before, these pharmacists were largely involved in dispensing drugs. Now, we’re seeing pharmacists more prepared to go into manufacturing, in regulatory policies, and so on.”
According to the Malaysian Pharmaceutical Society, about 1,400 students with degrees in pharmacy graduate every year. While this figure indirectly improves the proficiency Duopharma is seeing in its manufacturing and regulatory lines, it is expected to inundate employers and saturate market employment sooner or later.
This is why Leonard, who graduated with a law and economics degree from Monash University, Australia discourages graduates of medicine and sciences degrees from being too myopic in the career path they want for themselves. And if there’s a profession that can give them a fulfilling career, it’s pharmaceutical sales.