Indonesia is becoming a global vaccine player, but so is China

Growing affluence is allowing the government to pour more money into developing a universal healthcare system

Indonesia is pushing to expand its domestic vaccine manufacturing, so that the market is covered with vaccines in the country's regular immunisation schedule. The state-owned pharmaceutical company Bio Farma is at the centre of these efforts, and has been expanding exports so that 60% of its production is now exported to 133 countries, UNICEF and the World Health Organisation (WHO).

With IDR100bn (US$7.7m) allocated in 2010 to support five years of basic vaccine research, government support through the country’s Ministry of State-owned enterprises is still relatively humble, but this is now set to change, not least because foreign investors are pulling out. According to a company source, as much as 98% of Bio Farma’s research funds have in the past come from abroad, with the Netherlands, Germany, Australia and South Africa being the biggest sources.

Dr Carole Brückler, Head of Asia-Pacific operations for Deallus Consulting in Singapore, said: 'Indonesia has become more affluent, and therefore the government is able to pour more money into developing the country’s universal healthcare system by 2019.

'Also owing to this new affluence, Indonesia is no longer considered a priority country for global donors, such as the European Union [which has poured aid into the Indonesian health sector from the 1980s but stopped in early 2014].'

Many China-made vaccines are almost ready to reach WHO prequalification stage

Dr Brückler added that because vaccines prevent diseases, they have very good cost effects, so that the expansion of domestic production has been playing a key role in Indonesia’s universal healthcare system for its 200 million people. Indeed, 13 vaccines currently in Bio Farma’s portfolio have reached the prequalification stage of the WHO, meaning that the company is able to participate in international tenders.

Whereas Bio Farma’s traditional focus has been on commodity type paediatric vaccines – it developed the 5-in-1 shot pentavalent vaccine, which protects against diphtheria-tetanus-pertussis, hepatitis B, and Hib – the company has also been forming partnerships with international players for the development of more niche vaccines. An example is cooperation with Australia’s Murdoch Children’s Research Institute in the development of a rotavirus vaccine.

This progress may be timely. Dr Brückler stressed that many China-made vaccines are also almost ready to reach WHO prequalification stage, competing with Indonesia’s output.

'Within the next five years, China’s vaccine manufacturers will be able to participate in global tenders,' she said.