The Greek pharmaceutical industry has remained a relatively strong sector despite the crisis that has rocked the country since late 2009.
It contributes about €2.8 billion (Dh10.94bn) to GDP annually, according to the Greek government, and is one of the few industries in Greece that has weathered the crisis relatively well in terms of expanding workforces and companies.
Greek medical products (packaged medicaments) as an export sector come second only to refined petroleum products. In 2015, the Panhellenic Union of Pharmaceutical Companies reported that Greece exports its pharma products to more than 80 countries, including the Middle East, employs 11,000 highly specialised workers in addition to an overall workforce of 50,000. Exports cover some 20 per cent of the industry’s turnover. Markos Ollandezos, the scientific director at the Hellenic Association of Pharmaceutical Industry says that while few Greek medical companies had activity in the UAE, there were plans to tap into this market, which is considered a key one for pharmaceutical exports from Greece.
“We base our growth strategy in four basic pillars, ie exports, in the sense of the enhancement of our presence in the international markets and the maximisation of the production capacity; investment in R&D in collaboration with research institutions both in Greece and abroad; specialisation production of APIs [active pharmaceutical ingredients], reformulation and new indications for existing molecules; and development of novel production methods,” says Mr Ollandezos, adding that collaborations with originator companies either via transfer of knowledge or licensing, contract manufacturing, promotion or distribution, were also important strategies.
An interesting characteristic of the internal Greek market is that it has yet to harness the potential of branded generics.
While the prices of patented medicines tend to be relatively low in Greece, those of generics, which should be even cheaper, have been slow to follow suit. The country’s lenders such as the IMF have been pressing Greece to open up both its pharmacy market and its market share of generic pharmaceuticals as a cost-cutting exercise.
Regarding the challenges faced by the industry, the economy remains a significant problem both to the sector and the healthcare system in general. “As the market is reshaped, the industry faces increased competition and consequently a margin squeeze,” Mr Ollandezos says.
“We believe that the needed structural reforms should be implemented without delay in order to provide time and space for the companies to adapt as quickly as possible. The current low-price environment may put strong pressure on the manufacturers but on the other hand this has motivated Greek companies to seek opportunities abroad and adopt strategies for extroversion.”
Brendan Melck, a senior research analyst in the Life Sciences team at IHS Markit in London, says that according to his data, Greece’s pharmaceutical exports were the 19th largest of European countries and 31st largest in the world.
He highlights that several legal amendments introduced have put significant pressure on the prices of generics and off-patent medicines in general. When in opposition, the current Syriza government opposed a law change in 2013 which proposed the reduction of generics prices.
Regarding the challenges faced by the Greek pharmaceutical industry, Mr Melck tells The National.
“There is, in general, growing competition in the generic pharmaceuticals sector from cheaper production countries, for instance India, this makes it more difficult for Greek companies both at home and in other countries, although they have the quality seal associated with the EU and its strict regulation on manufacturing.
“In Greece, since the government is under pressure to reduce spending, larger multinational generics producers can offer lower prices on ‘pure’ generics – ie not branded generics – so making Greek products less competitive.”
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