Novo Nordisk partners with Aspen to boost insulin supply in Africa

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Novo Nordisk, a prominent player in the diabetes pharmaceutical industry, is taking significant steps to bolster insulin supplies in Africa. In a move mirroring its diabetes rival Eli Lilly, Novo Nordisk has partnered with South Africa’s Aspen Pharmacare to address the issue of insulin scarcity in Africa, where over 80% of medicines are currently imported.

Under this collaboration, Aspen Pharmacare, based in South Africa, will manufacture human insulin specifically for the African continent. This initiative is part of Novo Nordisk’s broader commitment to reach more than half a million diabetes patients across sub-Saharan Africa.

Aspen will utilize its existing sterile facility in Gqeberha, South Africa, to produce insulin vials. In recent years, Aspen has invested approximately 6 billion South African rand (approximately $316 million) in this facility. Notably, some of the sterile infrastructure was originally set up for the production of COVID-19 vaccines, including Johnson & Johnson’s shot. However, due to limited demand, these production lines remained idle.

“We firmly believe that access to quality healthcare is a fundamental human right. We are committed to providing affordable human insulin to ensure access to quality treatments for even more people with diabetes in the African continent. At the same time, it is equally important for us that we are doing it in a sustainable way by focusing on local production.”

– Katrine DiBona, corporate vice president for Global Public Affairs and Sustainability at Novo Nordisk

As part of the agreement, Aspen aims to produce 16 million vials of insulin in 2024, sufficient to serve 1.1 million individuals annually. By 2026, the goal is to increase production to meet the needs of 4.1 million patients each year. The insulin manufactured by Aspen will be distributed at a low cost to health authorities and non-governmental organizations through government tenders. Novo Nordisk has committed to capping the price of insulin vials at $3.

To support this insulin production effort, Aspen plans to deploy around 250 employees, with production slated to commence in early 2024. This partnership addresses a critical issue, as it is estimated that over 60 million people worldwide will lack access to insulin by 2030. Low- to middle-income countries, including Africa, will be disproportionately affected, with the number of adults living with diabetes in Africa expected to rise from 24 million to 55 million by 2045.

Africa’s heavy reliance on imported drugs, with more than 80% of its medicines currently being imported, underscores the urgency of initiatives like this. Eli Lilly had previously entered into a licensing agreement with generics maker Eva Pharma in Egypt in December, and recently, even Lilly partnered with Aspen to extend its reach in South Africa and sub-Saharan Africa.

For Aspen, this collaboration with Novo Nordisk represents a positive development, as its facilities have faced underutilization due to decreased demand for COVID-19 vaccines. Aspen had initially gained international attention when it agreed to assist in manufacturing Johnson & Johnson’s COVID-19 vaccine in 2020.

Despite the earlier challenges, Aspen has rebounded with agreements to produce medicines for three global pharmaceutical companies at its French facility, signaling a resurgence for the company’s operations in anticipation of renewed demand for sterile drugs.

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