Cambodia’s pharmaceutical industry has been steadily growing for the past decade, and is expected to become more profitable as the Kingdom both develops economically and sees its young population begin seeking medical attention for age-related diseases. The Post’s Robin Spiess sat down with Sandeep Majumdar, Chairman and Managing Director of pharmaceutical company Curewel International, to discuss the sector.
Curewel International Co Ltd is a company that operates in many different industries in Cambodia. Can you describe what your company does?
Curewel is an international company based mainly around pharmaceuticals and medical devices. We were among the first pharmaceutical companies to move into the Cambodian market from India, back in 2001.
I could already tell back then that in 10 to 15 years, there were going to be too many players in the pharmaceutical market in Cambodia. I knew a price war would drive down profitability and also wanted to explore other types of businesses, so I began to offer other products as well, including consumer products, inverters and batteries. These industries are less reliable than pharmaceuticals because the prices change with consumer demand, while in pharmaceuticals, the price is set. Still, our consumer products are selling well in Cambodia.
Do you believe the pharmaceutical industry in Cambodia will continue to grow?
According to a recent report on the state of Cambodian pharmaceuticals and health care, pharmaceutical spending will continue to grow in the upcoming years. Spending on pharmaceuticals in Cambodia used to be about $241 million in 2015, grew to $265 million in 2016 and now, in 2017, has reached $296 million. In 2021, the total market in Cambodia for pharmaceuticals is projected to be about $437 million.
Also according to the report, last November, the country budget for the pharmaceutical health sector was increased to about $487 million. This is a good sign that the pharmaceutical sector in the Kingdom is growing. On average, the pharmaceutical industry in the next couple of years is projected to grow by about 10 percent.
How do you cope with growing competition in the pharmaceutical industry?
Healthy competition is always welcome. As long as no one is compromising the quality of their product, whoever works harder and strives more will remain standing. We don’t like fly-by-night companies, which not only spoil pharmaceutical companies’ names, but also the names of the countries where they are from. The Ministry of Health is on the lookout for these types of companies.
Imports of pharmaceuticals are still common here, where there are not as many trusted companies as there are in neighbouring countries. Local companies are important, however, because oftentimes poor people cannot afford imported products.
Cambodia has gradually risen out of poverty, but there are still needy populations who need medicines that may be hard to acquire. Are you working on any initiatives to serve these communities?
There are a lot of poorer people, especially in the provinces, who the government hospitals give free basic medicines like paracetamol, vitamins and cough syrup. When it comes to more complicated medicines, some companies here are able to offer these at a discounted rate.
Some organisations also do charitable work, and I have taken the initiative to speak with pharmaceutical companies about the opportunity to collectively donate free medicines every couple of months or so. Some medicines which are a few months from expiration, which would otherwise be thrown out or sold at a discount, could be donated to some of these local charities to disseminate. A program like this has yet to begin, but we’d like to start this genuine social work sometime soon.
Are you working on any exciting projects in the new year?
We are working on two new projects this year. One is an agriculture project we launched recently, which is based on selling organic products. This company has done a lot of trials all over the world, perfecting an organic product that should increase the productivity of the plant by 25 to 45 percent depending on the type of crop. By investing in this product, farmers can get a higher yield from their crops and they don’t have to worry about health hazards because the product is organic. [The product has previously been reported as being a supplement that increases the uptake of nutrients from fertiliser.]
We also have the exclusive Pacific Asia rights for a fishery project we are planning to pursue next year with an Israeli company. These guys install these machines and technology and raise fish in giant drums. We’ve already done three installations in India, and plan to have a plant here in Cambodia as well.
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.