(MENAFN - Arab News) Sanofi, the health care giant, is busy building the largest manufacturing facility in Saudi Arabia. "Next year it will rank as the world's No. 1 pharmaceutical company," says General Manager Dr. Salah Mousa in this exclusive interview with Arab News.
Sanofi is the first global pharmaceutical company to establish its industrial facility at King Abdullah Economical City (KAEC). On June 28, 2010, Sanofi signed an agreement with Emaar, the Economic City (EEC), a Tadawul-listed company developing King Abdullah Economic City (KAEC), under the sponsorship of Saudi Arabian General Investment Authority (SAGIA), to establish the largest manufacturing facility in the Kingdom, at the Industrial Valley in KAEC on a 35,000 square meter land.
Although Sanofi has core strengths in the field of health care with seven growth platforms - diabetes solutions, human vaccines, innovative drugs, rare diseases, consumer health care, emerging markets and animal health - its brand is only associated with diabetes medications for the GCC and MENA region.
Mousa speaks about the Saudi identity of the company, its social responsibility toward the Kingdom, its role in training candidates and the new horizons.
Following are excerpts from the interview:
Q. What are the benefits you found while teaming up with KAEC, EEC and SAGIA, and did you feel that this might jeopardize the independence in decision-making of a foreign company? How do you introduce yourself to the Saudi community?
A. Sanofi Arabia is 100 percent owned by Sanofi Aventis, the France-based company, but as of May 2011, and the minute we decided to establish the largest manufacturing pharmaceutical facility, we consider ourselves a Saudi company. At the same time, one of the reasons why we established the manufacturing facility in Industrial Valley is that KAEC offers the chance for the foreign company to own 100 percent of its shares. Moreover, with the new industrial laws introduced in the Kingdom, as per the directives of Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques King Abdullah to attract foreign investments, we are provided with a chance to operate independently from a Wakeel, or a sponsor, and thus recognized as Sanofi, and registered the name in the chamber of commerce and industry. Meanwhile, this requires that we turn into local players in the media as a beginning. Our key objective is to work with external communication, our stakeholders - the patient, the pharmacist, the physician, the purchaser and all those who are in the health care system and media. We want to establish, that we are Sanofi Aventis, the French company with a local fingerprint, and we are building a manufacturing facility to invest in the Kingdom. We are a multinational company, yet at the same time a local player.
Q. What is the capital invested in the factory, and would that help provide more job opportunities for Saudi men and women? And how would you prepare them for such jobs?
A. The project is expandable. Therefore, if we say its capital is 50 million euros it is right; even 100 million euros is also right. It is an expandable project and the various steps and stages of the projects determine the demands. Our key objective of this plant is that we will be a local company, and it goes without saying that we need locals to work in it. It is not easy to bring someone from outside the Kingdom, for many reasons. We are determined to occupy the majority of jobs in the manufactory by Saudis only. We have a commitment toward the Saudi society, and as long as there is a Saudi with the skills and capability for the job we will never seek others from abroad. Cooperating with SAGIA, we provide them with the job offering we have and number of employees we need, and through their training program they provide training for the job seekers for two years.
Q. Does Sanofi itself consider providing training for Saudis?
A. In 2012, Sanofi will be the No. 1 pharmaceutical company worldwide. It is a great responsibility. Therefore we focus on our social responsibility toward the country we are in. For the third year consecutively during summertime, we cooperate with almost all the Saudi universities and invite Saudi pharmacists where we offer them one to two months training program, during which we introduce our line of work and what is expected of them. As a pharmaceutical company, we offer office and field training for the students to help them decide on their future, whether with Sanofi or elsewhere. We also provide an ongoing development process for those we recruit through SAGIA, to be fully integrated with us. We also provide an accredited training program for the health care professionals, general physicians and specialists and inform official bodies at the health care sector of the number of Saudis and non-Saudis we train.
Q. What about the production lines? How would you find and train Saudis as working in manufacturing facility is a new concept?
A. After assessing and interviewing the candidates, they are given on-job and per-job training, plus they receive training in one of our already-running factories, in Egypt, Algeria, Germany or France. Medication field is a sensitive one. There are certain qualifications that need to be met.
Q. Are you aware that not many recognize Sanofi's identity. Only a few people in the GCC know it is associated with diabetes medication. What are you doing to strengthen its branding image?
A. Pharmaceutical companies in the Kingdom are usually known by some medication, but the brand might not be known. Regulations in the Kingdom do not allow pharmaceutical companies to address any communication or message with the patient and public. The only sector regulated is the medicine itself and it has to be registered in the Ministry of Health. Its price is controlled by the Ministry of Health and cannot be changed or priced otherwise, thus there are limitations.
The ministry prohibits pharmaceutical companies from dealing directly with patients. All diabetic patients in the Kingdom for example know Doanil, but are not concerned with the manufacturing company. Same thing applies to Lantus, the number one insulin worldwide. Telfast and Plavix are the lifesaver medicines for hypertension well known to the diabetic patients. Saudis and expatriates buy and take them home. They are linked in their mind with the company's brand name, not for Sanofi or other pharmaceutical companies. Back to your question, to launch Sanofi's brand name, we decided to invest in the Kingdom and have our manufacturing facility here. Moreover, we introduce a comprehensive service of producing medications, building awareness and educating patients.
Q. Sanofi is known for diabetes and oncology products. What are the other products the manufacturing facility will produce?
A. As you know when you build a factory, especially in the pharmaceutical field, it's not for one, two or three products. There is a production line. The production line enables the factory to produce today antibiotics, diabetes, gastrology and oncology medications and more. Pharmaceutical companies foresee a future for expansion, therefore they choose large pieces of land and build their factories on them.
Recent studies show that more than 3 million individuals across the Gulf region have diabetes, and that GCC has one of the highest rates of diabetes with 21 percent of the population suffering with the disease. Recent estimates suggest that the MENA region has six of the 10 countries with the highest diabetic population that is set to double by 2025.
The Kingdom has a population of 26 million, between citizens and expatriates. In five years the number might jump to 28 million, there is a growing demand, and we at Sanofi look forward to see that this manufactory fulfills the needs of the Kingdom and GCC countries, and in the third stage the needs of Lebanon, Syria and Jordan will be met.
We might start with a production line for 6-10 products, in four to five years, our production line might be producing more than 20 products. The factory is built to serve the region and stay for a long time.
Q. During the Diabetes Day held in Dubai last month, there was an exhibition held alongside that introduced tools and gadgets that aid diabetes patients in controlling their disease. Will Sanofi produce the same as part of its role in educating the patients?
A. Sanofi Aventis is the No. 1 company in the diabetes field worldwide, and we produce Lantus, which is the No. 1 insulin worldwide. All of diabetes patients have one or more of our products.
This requires that we not only sell medications, but for the patient's benefit we need to educate and build his awareness. Diabetes patients need to learn how to have a life-long relation with it; it is a life style. Sanofi therefore, has adopted a philosophy since 2008 in which it will be recognized by the public as a health care company, and a major player in presenting services to the patient to cover all his needs. Accordingly, we have a national diabetes program, where we create awareness among patients in any hospital or institute we work with. For example, we never used to produce tools and gadgets, but now we introduced an insulin-measuring device, as part of a comprehensive service plan. We also introduced a unique service as we sponsor an Arabic-speaking website where patients can login and inquire and ask all the questions they want regarding diabetes. We all have a free call center, managed by professionals to answer to any enquiries.
Q. "Looking forward" is a statement by Sanofi where it recognized challenges that Sanofi might face along with its investors. What are they? And whom can we depend on to provide you with a full view of the society's needs to fulfill them and reassure the investors?
A. The investment is 100 percent owned by Sanofi as we mentioned, and we are proud to be the first pharmaceutical company that decides to build a manufacturing facility fully owned by its company. There are many advantages of being the number one company, and at the same time there are disadvantages, as many things will be tested, examined and experienced for the first time. Applying the existing laws, might be faced with obstacles. We use all efforts to try to get the official parties to facilitate building our factory, and we are getting active responses from them.
Research is done locally. KAUST is an international facility that holds many international brains from around the world to work on researches. We have a commitment with them, to carry out some researches that we need inside the Kingdom. Other universities and institutes are very reliable and we depend on, in providing researches that meet the demands of the highest quality. We need researches that address the needs of the society we are working within. Also through desk research and market research, we determine the unmet needs of the society to best address them.
Q. About your awareness programs, how do you go about introducing them to the society?
A. We strike a balance between the activities carried out outside the Kingdom and those done inside. We concentrate on sustainable awareness oncology programs addressing the patients and their families and caregivers.