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EF: Can you provide an overview of your journey with Fosun Pharma, your involvement with Tridem Pharma, and the strategic significance of Tridem Pharma’s acquisition for Fosun Pharma’s expansion in Africa?  

JB: I began my journey with Fosun Pharma, which might not make me the most qualified person to delve into the origin and history of Tridem Pharma. My association with Fosun Pharma dates back eleven years when they sought to establish their French-speaking African affiliates, leading me to join their ranks. Subsequently, in 2018, it was Fosun Pharma, not any of its affiliates, which sealed the deal for the acquisition of Tridem Pharma. The primary objective behind this strategic move was to expedite the Fosun Pharma group's business expansion in Africa. 

The decision to acquire Tridem Pharma was a natural one for Fosun Pharma given their already established presence in both French- and English-speaking Africa, while Tridem Pharma's focus was primarily on the French-speaking African regions.  

EF: What is the primary motivation behind Fosun Pharma's strategic decision to shift production to Africa and establish local manufacturing capabilities, particularly in Côte d'Ivoire? 

JB: Globally, Fosun Pharma proudly holds the distinction of being the foremost manufacturer of anti-malarial medicines for esteemed entities such as the Global Fund, UNICEF, and other major donors. Additionally, we have earned the distinction of being the primary innovator behind the injectable artesunate for severe malaria treatment. As the world’s largest producer of antimalarials, a strategic decision has been made by Fosun Pharma to shift the production of essential medicines to Africa and establish local manufacturing capabilities. The ambitious endeavor has materialized as the ongoing project of setting up manufacturing sites in Côte d'Ivoire. The primary objective guiding this venture is to foster the creation of products manufactured within Africa, for the benefit of its people. 

Our visionary plan entails relocating dry tablet production to Africa, thereby offering vital support to local manufacturing efforts. However, we recognize the complexity involved in producing injectables, which necessitates the development of indigenous capabilities and expertise. As a result, the transfer of injectable production will require careful consideration and meticulous planning. 

EF: How does the partnership and loan aid in establishing the manufacturing site and distribution center? What challenges are expected in achieving local production 

JB: Indeed, the project is propelled by IFC (International Financial Corporation), a promising partnership. Under the partnership, IFC will provide subsidiaries of Fosun Pharma with two loans totaling 50 million euros to support the construction of a manufacturing site near Abidjan to produce anti-malaria drugs and anti-bacterial medicines. The endeavor encompasses not only the establishment of a state-of-the-art manufacturing site but also a strategically positioned distribution center. A resolute focus underlies the pursuit of Africa's self-reliance, yet it is vital to acknowledge that the journey ahead will be arduous. At present, attention is predominantly directed towards the manufacturing aspect, while the imperative production of APIs (Active Pharmaceutical Ingredients) locally remains a pivotal milestone, marking the true realization of independence. Nevertheless, this initial phase lays the crucial foundation for the grander vision ahead. 

EF: How does the proposed regional strategy involving specialized production in different countries contribute to achieving a high return on investment and ensuring quality in pharmaceutical manufacturing? 

JB:  In my perspective, there are two key aspects to consider. The first pertains to the required skills, while the second involves crucial political decisions. Deliberations between stakeholders are essential to determine how to incentivize investors to explore opportunities. Given the relatively low margins in APIs production, the appeal lies more in the finished medicine, necessitating effective persuasion of investors. This, however, must be carried out locally, as expecting someone from a distant country like India to travel to Nigeria or Côte d'Ivoire for API creation is impractical. Local experts and biochemists must take the lead in this endeavor. 

The political aspect forms the initial phase. Creating a conducive environment with unique advantages for investors is a local endeavour, yet the ultimate goal goes beyond a single country's interests. Engaging with the entire region, particularly focusing on the ECOWAS and African regions, is imperative for a high return on investment. Building a manufacturing facility of a significant scale, as seen in Nigeria, requires substantial investment and market outreach to recover costs. Thus, adopting a regional strategy is pivotal. 

A proposed approach involves creating a regional map outlining each country's specialized production. For example, Nigeria could focus on antibiotics, while Côte d'Ivoire concentrates on antimalarials, leveraging its production capacity to supply the entire region. In this manner, countries like Senegal could explore vaccination production and become regional suppliers, justifying substantial investments. Such a collaborative approach opens doors to vast markets while ensuring quality at a considerable cost. Nonetheless, it demands considerable investment and substantial sales efforts to succeed. 

EF: In our conversation with Patrick Vanderloo, a Pfizer representative for the Middle East, Russia, and Africa, he stressed the significance of Africa uniting as a continent to take advantage of the scalability you mentioned. What do you think about this? 

JB: The responsibility of assuming this role should ideally rest with the African Union, although it will undoubtedly require significant time and effort to establish universally accepted regulations and achieve unanimity among all member nations. The current African Agency, DIAMA, is envisioned to fulfill this function; however, it must be acknowledged that certain challenges lie ahead. The English-speaking nation, Nigeria, and the French-speaking nations, namely Senegal and Côte d'Ivoire, may find it difficult to embrace collaborative efforts due to their substantial size and influence. Striking a balance between cooperation and autonomy becomes imperative. 

The task of spearheading this initiative demands an organization like the African Union, even though it is observed that a higher proportion of politicians occupy its ranks rather than individuals engaged in fieldwork. Nonetheless, it is heartening to note that progress has already been achieved in sub-Saharan Africa, signalling a promising trajectory towards accomplishing this overarching goal. 

EF: As the President and one of the founders of the LIPA Association, can you tell us what are the key priorities?  

JB: We decided to create it with all the general managers together a few years ago. If you know the association LEEM in France, which is the association of pharmaceutical companies, they have a department dedicated to French-speaking African countries. They were managing the different activities from France and for us, it was not the best option. So we came together as different affiliates and the general manager in the country.  

The association has several key priorities. One significant concern is addressing the regulatory challenges we encounter, particularly in achieving a degree of homogeneity in the rules governing the registration of various dossiers. Ensuring ethical compliance is another vital component. Additionally, combating counterfeit pharmaceutical products is crucial. Lastly, we are also striving to prioritize the development of human resources within the pharmaceutical sector. 

EF: Do you have any special initiatives in place to upskill the Africans? 

JB: This is quite an interesting question. I started in the pharmaceutical field which was influenced by my background as a medical doctor, and I began my career in Côte d'Ivoire's infectious disease department. My grandfather and father are also medical doctors. They were therefore taken aback when I switched from the practical portion to a business school. My goal throughout my career was to figure out how to use the pharmaceutical firm to also improve the local workforce. It would be a win-win situation where we could grow individuals and they could increase their revenues. 

It is quite clear that we have chosen to focus on people development with this new project. For instance, we'll develop the first medical representatives training programme centred in a University. It will be in collaboration with Fosun Pharma and the University of Abidjan. Therefore, the goal is to have very, strong training provided by medical professionals, pharmacists, chemists, and university-based doctors, as well as those from the pharmaceutical industry. 

It will resemble a business school in certain ways. We expect to formally sign the deal with the university and the company in the near future. We have chosen to collaborate with the institution and see how we can raise the calibre of their master's programmes. The plan is to engage with some of the students to provide some form of scholarship. That would entail that they complete the theoretical component at the university and the practical component at Fosun Pharma’s production facility in China.  

Since having a chemist who is committed to quality is the first step, we will start with the quality department. We are expected to begin working with the University of Abidjan and the head of Tridem Pharma's quality department in September solely to do an audit of what they are currently doing, identify ways to improve what they are doing, and lay out the course for the future.  

EF: What are the new skillset needed for the young generation entering into the healthcare sector, and what are the challenges you are facing and how do you overcome them? 

JB: Currently, we face a lack of the requisite skills necessary to ensure transparency in a project of this magnitude. Such expertise is not readily available locally. To gain access to markets like the Global Fund or UNICEF, securing WHO prequalification for the manufacturing facility becomes imperative. This crucial project revolves around knowledge transfer, necessitating initial collaboration with external experts with the ultimate aim of empowering local talent. 

Our sponsorship of such initiatives opens avenues for collaboration with others, not solely driven by the company's interests. While we may not be able to employ everyone we support, it elevates the stature of those involved. During my visit to Burkina Faso, the Minister of Health expressed a desire for similar partnerships, as seen in Côte d'Ivoire. Expanding this approach to cover all nations remains the vision. For example, the medical representative will initially operate from Côte d'Ivoire, and over time, we intend to forge collaborations with universities, ensuring gradual growth and inclusivity across the region. 

EF: How would you want to be remembered as a leader and how would you wish your legacy would live on?  

JB: My father viewed my decision to join Fosun Pharma a few years ago as unconventional. Instead of working for Sanofi in Europe and covering Africa, Europe, and the Middle East, I chose to join a Chinese firm with no office in Côte d'Ivoire. I began by drafting various documents to establish the business while residing at my parents' house, and my mother even prepared meals for me and the initial employees, creating a start-up environment. Initially, I was the sole employee upon my return to Côte d'Ivoire in July 2012, but today, there are approximately 800 employees. My initial focus at Fosun Pharma was solely on Artesun (Artesunate for Injection). As a medical professional, I was struck by its ability to reduce malaria-related deaths by nearly 30% compared to Quinine. This led me to return to Africa with a clear mission: to deploy this medication extensively across the continent and significantly impact malaria mortality. 

August 2023