Letters to the Editor

Jamaica, unleash your pharmaceutical goldmine

Monday, March 12, 2012    

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Dear Editor,

Jamaica has the potential to become one of the biggest pharmaceutical giants in this hemisphere -- in fact the world. Our beautiful island has a wide variety of flora, both endemic and introduced. While Lascelles Chin and other unsung businessmen and scientists have contributed greatly to promoting and developing the Jamaican pharmaceutical sector, it is impossible for them to do it alone. We need more Jamaican-based pharmaceutical companies to accompany Mr Chin on his quest for the promotion of health and well-being in Jamaica, and the rest of the world.

But Jamaica's debt hovers menacingly in the air. Universities in the island receive limited funding for research, and thus cannot afford the elaborate equipment First-World countries have for ground-breaking pharmaceutical research. The universities have to rely mainly on their own revenue, which at times cannot finance the quality research needed to move the industry forward into the 21st century. There are many plants that can be screened for drug development.

While there are other pharmaceutical companies in Jamaica not mentioned in this letter, only few companies specialise in the making of commercial drugs while others focus only in the distribution of drugs. North American universities are currently researching the potential of our own marine life and flora, as well as other areas of the Caribbean territories for anti-microbial, anti-cancer and anti-tumor agents. Although research is being done on indigenous Jamaican plants, plans should be put in place for diversification in other areas of pharmaceutical research. Jamaica has the potential to eradicate this financial debt and be on the verge of being more financially stable if we act now.

While Jamaica is to be praised for the ingenuity of novel business models and rapid technological development envied by First-World countries, pharmaceutical research often suffers. Pharmaceutical companies from beyond our shores are even exploiting the flora and fauna here for their financial benefit. Should we just ignore this potential and rely on foreign powers for our salvation? Overseas pharmaceutical companies do not provide cures for every disease that debilitates mankind.

Cancer and diabetes are diseases that wreak havoc upon Jamaicans. We have the potential to "move mountains" right here in our island. Yet we depend on expensive imported drugs that we do not produce to cure diseases that can be eradicated from Jamaica altogether if we invest more in pharmaceutical research and start new and authentically Jamaican pharmaceutical companies as seen in Lascelles Chin's and Dr. Henry Lowe's business models.

While LASCO has diversified and has an interdisciplinary approach by not only concentrating on only pharmaceuticals, we need more Jamaican companies whose specialisation is in pharmaceuticals; for example, prostate cancer that has taken the lives of countless Jamaican men. Thanks to Dr Henry Lowe and his extensive research on prostate cancer, and also the launch of the Bio-Tech and R & D Institute, Jamaican men can have hope, and more of a fighting chance. While The Bio-Tech and R&D Institute is quite nascent to the business, more Jamaican companies and scientists need to support this venture, and follow this model of business merging with science.

Long-term investment should be put into pharmaceutical research and industries. Although drug discovery and development are costly, they will reap great rewards. Pharmaceutical companies can be allied with universities for research and development and thus both benefit. The universities would get research grants, while pharmaceutical companies would get information to create the drugs, distribute them both locally and on a competitive market that rivals other major pharmaceutical giants in the world.

While drug testing is another area of expertise, the Bureau of Standards can play an integral role in the quality of drugs produced, working in tandem with universities and pharmaceutical industries. While this will foster economic growth, the drugs made by Jamaican companies would possibly be cheaper locally than international ones.

Jamaica, it is your time to shine. Unleash your potential.

AG Lewis






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