African Pharma : 3 technology trends that could revolutionize the industry

African Pharma Industry can be shaped through leveraging on technology. Drug discovery, manufacturing, clinical trials and academia can all profit,
African Pharma

  • The positive impact of technology in Africa’s pharmaceutical industry could potentially be far reaching.
  • Drug discovery, manufacturing, inventory management, clinical trials, academia, pharmacovigilance; are all areas that could greatly benefit and experience exponential growth.
  • In the spirit of changing Africa’s narrative, it may be time to embrace and invest in technology so as to improve the overall outlook of the continent’s industry.
  • This article looks at three technologies that could provide a pathway to inclusive productivity growth in Africa’s pharma sector.

“Once a new technology rolls over you, if you’re not part of the steamroller, you’re part of the road.”

Stewart Brand, Writer

What are these technologies?

Virtual reality (VR)
African Pharma

The success of Africa’s pharmaceutical industry is firmly hinged on capacity building, innovation and its ability to collaborate with key global institutions. This can all be achieved through virtual reality (VR).  

VR refers to the simulated three-dimensional (3D) environment created by computer technology that allows users to mimic actual real-world experience.

Through VR, African pharmaceutical companies can collaborate more efficiently with European pharma giants in virtual workspaces.

The value derived from these partnerships can potentially be exponential;

  • cross-team drug formulations.
  • joint assessment of 3D data sets during clinical trials.
  • walk though and virtual bench-marking sessions in international Good Manufacturing Practice (GMP) qualified facilities. etc.

This technology can also change the course work structure and delivery in institutions that offer the pharmacy program.

Through VR, pharmacy students in Africa could be able to;

  • view 3D chemical structures of medicines
  • safely simulate experiments in state-of-the-art virtual assay laboratories
  • study pharmacokinetics and pharmacodynamics of drugs through 3D organ systems
  • do placements in virtual state of the art facilities.

This type of exponential learning can increase the rate and efficiency in retention of knowledge. Thereby, improving overall human capacity of pharmacy professionals in the region.

Read also: Counterfeit medicines: 3 ways Africa can win the fight (

Precision medicine
African Pharma

It is time for the African pharma industry to move away from the ‘one-size-fits-all approach” to a more personalized, custom designed approach to disease prevention and treatment.

Precision medicine refers to when drug formulators innovatively design drugs that take into account differences in genetic composition, lifestyle and environments that they are exposed to. Considering most of medicine design happens in Europe, there is a huge disconnect in suitability and accuracy of drug treatment in the African population.

As the US Food and Drugs Administration (FDA) acknowledge, traditionally, formulation and manufacture of medicines has been for the “average patient”. This has worked to some extent but there is a cohort of patients who still struggle with the inaccuracies of dose and release profiles of these medicines.

Long term, this innovative approach can create great gains in Africa, a region where cancer deaths are expected to double to an estimated 1.4 million deaths annually by 2040. Precision medicine technologies that aids in rapid identification of tumor specific antigens from human leukocyte antigens can go a long way in enhancing treatment outcomes of individual tumors.

Additive manufacturing
African Pharma

Another innovation that could completely change the overall outlook of Africa’s pharma industry is additive manufacturing. This refers to where, instead of following the traditional models of manufacturing such as tableting, a 3D technology is used to stack and fuse layers of raw materials to form a medicine.

The key advantage of this technology is that manufactured medicines can easily be tailored for specific patients for instance through changing the release profile of the health product. This type of manufacturing complements the concept of precision medicine.

Another advantage is that this 3D technology can be placed at the hospital setting and when necessary, medicines can be printed/produced rather than relying on medicines with inaccurate doses and release profiles.

A good example is an FDA approved drug called Spritam®, which is a 3D printed anti-epileptic approved in August 2015. The profile of the drug, through additive manufacturing, is designed to immediately disintegrate after ingestion a feature that was made possible through 3D printing.


In general, implementation of technology in the pharmaceutical industry is known to be notoriously slow. This is largely due to the size of investment involved and stringent laws and regulations that govern the industry.

However, this should and cannot stop the continent in moving forward with ideas that could shape the overall public health of its citizens. Together let us reshape the African pharmaceutical landscape through technology and innovation.

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Bevin Likuyani is a Pharmacist with a MPharm (Pharmacoepidemiology & Pharmacovigilance) and MBA (Strategic Management) from School of Business, University of Nairobi). He is a Certified Supply Chain Pharmacist. (American Association of Supply Chain Management) and content writer on pharma related topics. Email:

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