In the hushed-atmosphere offices of the Arwan pharmaceutical industry, in Barja, in the Chouf region, preparations are underway for the upcoming manufacture, under license, of the Russian anti-Covid-19 vaccine, Sputnik V. The chain of production, already running in the manufacture of ampoules and vials filled with liquid drugs, is only waiting for the final adjustments which should enable it to produce between 30 and 60 million annual doses. Doses, most of which will be intended for export, given the limited needs of the local market (3 to 6 million doses maximum). And the management is fine-tuning the final administrative formalities to get to Moscow within a few days, where it must sign the final collaboration agreement with the Russian Direct Investment Fund (RDIF) which supports the development of the Russian vaccine against Covid-19.
Abdul Razzaq Yousef, Chairman of Arwan Pharmaceutical Companies. A.-MH
An investment of 15 to 25 million dollars
“A few days separate us from the signing of the partnership”, announces to L’Orient-Le Jour the vice-president and shareholder of the company, Roueida Dham, holder of a doctorate from the American University of Beirut (AUB) in basic medical sciences. “We are entering the final phase of our project, that of logistics. We should go to Russia after June 7th. We will probably be accompanied by the ministers of Health, Hamad Hassan, and of Industry, Imad Hobballah, ”she said. Because producing a vaccine, even under license, requires funds. And the company chaired by Emirati businessman Abdul Razzaq Yousef, which has established some 13 pharmaceutical factories around the world, “needs the support of the Lebanese authorities and that of the central bank,” notes Dr Dham. . Support already granted by the Minister of Industry who announced on May 31 from the Baabda palace the signing of the contract for the production of the Russian vaccine in Lebanon. “We can only support the initiative, Arwan pharmaceutical industries meet the criteria. They have developed advanced drug manufacturing technology, ”said Mr. Hobballah to L’Orient-Le Jour. “The State therefore plays the role of facilitator”, specifies the Minister. All that remains is to secure the necessary funds. “We estimate the investment required at a range of 15 to 25 million dollars,” reveals the vice-president. And even if the BDL does not seem ready to support Arwan’s initiative, “it will not be an obstacle, we have other options,” she assures us.
Hassan proud of the cooperation with the World Bank for the vaccination campaign
It is then that the manufacture of this adenovirus vaccine, a technology used by the AstraZeneca and Johnson & Johnson vaccines, should begin. “As soon as the contract is signed, we will import the raw material. After receipt, it takes between a month and a half and two months for the finished product to be distributed, explains Dr Dham. That is to say a week of production and the rest to carry out the conformity tests, first in Lebanon, then in Russia. “
Dr Roueida Dham, vice-president and shareholder of the company. A.-MH
“The only industry in Lebanon to produce injectable drugs”
It all started when Arwan, which markets some 45 medicines and life-saving products on the Lebanese market, 85% of which are sold to hospitals, considered the possibility of manufacturing a vaccine against the new coronavirus. “We were approached to produce the American Moderna Messenger RNA vaccine. The American company was looking for three pharmaceutical factories in the Middle East with the aim of producing 100 million doses per year. Arwan was to be tasked with producing 35 million doses. But the initiative was not successful, given the enormous needs of the American market, ”says the vice-president. It was then that she herself, “concerned by the low percentage of people vaccinated in Lebanon and the high demand”, contacted the Russian embassy. “To produce its vaccine, Russia needed vials filled with liquid medicine, a process that we are very familiar with,” says Dr Dham. We are also the only pharmaceutical industry in Lebanon, out of the nine in the country, to produce injectable drugs. “She specifies in passing and in response to the rumor” that no politician holds shares in the company. Two other techniques are also essential for the production of the Spoutnik V vaccine, “single-use bioreactors and cold chain manufacturing, which we also master”. The icing on the cake, the company benefits from “the approval of the Russian Ministry of Health”, a sine qua non condition for selling its product in Russia. In 2018, the Russian Minister of Health went to the Arwan factory in Lebanon, to which he awarded his “approval of good manufacturing practices”. And to top it off, “Arwan’s laboratories are approved by the World Health Organization.”
The only downside is that the Sputnik V vaccine has not yet been approved by the WHO or the European Medicines Agency (EMA). “It will not be long,” Roueida Dham retorts. In the meantime, the announcement of the production of a vaccine in Lebanon is unexpected news, as the country of the Cedars is struck down by the economic, financial and political crisis. “Not only will this speed up local vaccination, while representing another choice for the people of Lebanon, but it will give a boost to the Lebanese economy,” promises Ms. Dham. “Each job created in our factory generates 2.2 jobs in the companies that depend on us,” she says. “The project of a Russian vaccine made in Lebanon is inevitably both political and economic,” assures Arwan’s president Abdul Razak Yousef. It will put Lebanon on the map of pharmaceutical producing countries. It will also give a bit of hope to a population that needs it so much.
In the hushed-atmosphere offices of the Arwan pharmaceutical industry, in Barja, in the Chouf region, preparations are underway for the upcoming manufacture, under license, of the Russian anti-Covid-19 vaccine, Sputnik V. The chain of production, already running in the manufacture of ampoules and vials filled with liquid medicines, only awaits the final adjustments which …