US-BASED PHARMACEUTICAL FIRM TO START MAKING CANCER DRUGS IN RWANDA
By Tobiloba Ishola
Lifting and Empowering All Families (L.E.A.F) Rwanda will start production of the first complex generic cancer medicine, L.E.A.F.-1404. This was announced after an agreement was reached with US Contract Manufacturing Organisation (CMO), through the firm’s parent company, LEAF Pharmaceuticals LLC, which is based in the United States.
L.E.A.F.-1404 is an advanced complex generic version of Caelyx/Doxil, a chemotherapy drug used to treat breast and ovarian cancer, myeloma, and HIV-related Kaposi’s sarcoma. This drug has been available in advanced countries for over twenty years but not in African countries.
According to a report from the International Agency for Research in Cancer (IARC), 14.1 million cancer cases were diagnosed worldwide in 2012, of which 8 million were from low-income countries (LICs). A total of 8.2 million cancer deaths were recorded the same year and 5.3 million were from LICs. By 2030, an estimated 21.7 million people will suffer from cancer. Yet, with such a high disease burden, ‘Caelyx/Doxil’ has not been accessible to patients in Africa.
Dr Clet Niyikiza, founder and Chief Executive Officer of L.E.A.F. Pharmaceuticals said the production of L.E.A.F.-1404 will take the company a step closer to bringing an innovative, safe and affordable anti-cancer drug to patients with breast cancer, ovarian cancer, and Kaposi Sarcoma. Niyikiza told The NewTimes that he established a subsidiary of his firm in Rwanda in 2017 to promote biotechnological research and development, and pharmaceutical manufacturing in Africa.
According to him, the idea is to have advanced medicine available on the continent, noting that even his own company-produced medicines were not available on the continent. “Basically, you have a system where you have made important discoveries but your mothers, your sisters, your brothers, grandparents cannot have access to it. This became unacceptable for me,” he lamented.
Rwanda’s Health Minister Dr. Diane Gashumba hailed the move, noting its significance for Rwanda, Africa, and the rest of the world.
L.E.A.F. Pharmaceuticals specialises in discovering, developing and commercialising innovative and safe therapies for cancer, auto immune and other infectious diseases. The company was established in the US in 2014 and extended its subsidiary to Rwanda, the home country of its CEO, in 2017. The company, which has state-of-the-art manufacturing facilities, will be responsible for both clinical and commercial production of L.E.A.F.-1404 under conditions that are acquiescent with the global current Good Manufacturing Practices (cGMP). This drug will be available to both the African and European market.
Cancer drugs, when accessible, are expensive. But as the continent pushes for large scale commercial production of the drugs, they will eventually be easily accessible, and perhaps affordable. Hopefully, this translates to more Africans beating cancer.