Despite having the lion's share of the domestic market, local pharmaceutical industry lags behind reproducing products, a leading industrialist has warned.
"While India is quite ahead in terms of reverse engineering, we have not been able to do anything on that front," said Salman F Rahman, vice chairman of the Beximco Group on Saturday.
Mr Rahman noted that reverse engineering is an area where the least-developed countries (LDCs) could develop their capacity while enjoying the World Trade Organisation's (WTO) patent regulation privileges.
"But we have not been able to take any advantage of that. We are still zero when it comes to reverse engineering," said the Beximco vice chairman.
He made the comments at the Samson H Chowdhury Memorial Conference in the capital.
Mr. Rahman, who is also a private sector affairs advisor to the Prime Minister, lamented the pharmaceutical industry's dependence on foreign professionals.
"It is a shame that after producing so many pharmacists and chemists, we are still employing so many Indian professionals," he said.
"All the big pharmaceutical companies are employing foreign professionals," said Rahman, whose company is also a major player in the local pharmaceuticals market.
The businessman also referred to the lack of the local Active Pharmaceutical Ingredients (API) industry to meet the local demand.
"While India is meeting 80 to 90 per cent of its API demand locally, we are now able to meet only 15 per cent of our domestic needs after 30 years of producing API," he said.
"I don't think we have been successful as far as API is concerned," Mr Rahman said, adding "We should have done much better in that area."
Meanwhile, experts at the event noted that Bangladesh should start negotiating with the WTO on extending its Trade Related Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS) concessions beyond its LDC graduation.
Launched in 1994, the TRIPS agreement set global minimum standards for the protection of intellectual property rights.
All the member states of the global trade body are obliged to comply with the TRIPS agreement. However, the LDCs were granted a transition period to comply with the agreement, which has been extended twice until July 01, 2021 and January 01, 2033 respectively.
But Bangladesh fulfilled the LDC graduation criteria last year and is expected to formally graduate from the LDC category by 2024.
"Bangladesh may not be able to avail the TRIPS-related privileges once it graduates from the LDC status," said Professor Mustafizur Rahman, distinguished fellow of the Center for Policy Dialogue.
"We need to have a negotiating stance in the WTO to get the support mechanism for the graduating LDCs up until 2033," he added.
Speaking on the occasion, president of the Bangladesh Association of Pharmaceutical Industries (BAPI) Nazmul Hassan called for creating a separate export cell in the Directorate General of Drug Administration.
"We need to have separate focus and strategies for the domestic and overseas markets," said Mr Hassan, who is also the managing director of Beximco.
Director general of DGDA Major General Md. Mustafizur Rahman said that his agency is working on harmonising the registration process.
"Very soon, we will get the prequalification of the World Health Organisation while the country will also get the membership of Pharmaceutical Inspection Co-operation Scheme," he added.
Currently there is a huge untapped market for branded generics in Asia, Africa and Latin America which Bangladesh can explore, said Abdul Muktadir, chairman and managing director of the Incepta Pharmaceuticals.
"Meanwhile, we can also grow our markets in the US, EU and Australia due to our low cost base," he added.
"We need to follow a two-pronged approach to targeting both types of markets," Mr Muktadir said.
"We have good manpower and world class scientists. But what we lack is experience and preparation time is needed for accessing the highly regulated markets of the US and Europe," said managing director of the Square Pharmaceuticals Tapan Chowdhury.
General Secretary of the Bangladesh Association of Pharmaceutical Industries S M Shafiuzzaman also spoke on the occasion.