MG Health – A Pharmaceutical Future
MG Health is already leading the way in the burgeoning pharmaceutical cannabis industry, and in doing so is uplifting the communities of Lesotho.
MG Health started doing business in 2017. The company was issued its license that April and started construction of its facility near the village of Ha Marakabei later that year.
“We built it here because there’s no commercial farming around us. There’s adequate water from the nearby reservoir and a good power supply,” explains Andre Bothma, CEO of MG Health. “All our power is hydropower.”
MG Health made its first exports into Israel in September 2020 and achieved GACP certification in April the same year. In March 2021 the company received confirmation of its EU GMP certification and had its first export into Germany in July later that year. When we speak to Bothma, MG Health is in the process of being certified for extracts that he is aiming to bring to market in the second quarter of 2022. Bothma is confident, due to the high quality of the crops that MG Health grows, and the unique location they are grown in.
“Our product is grown 2,000 metres above sea level, in a low humidity, and because of that they don’t have any microbes on them,” Bothma says. “We export product into Israel and Germany, but it doesn’t have to be irradiated. When you irradiate cannabis plants, you eliminate a lot of the terpenes. So quality is our unique selling point.”
Navigating Regulatory Challenges
While marijuana-based products are MG Health’s stock in trade, talking to Bothma it is clear that he sees the firm as more than another in the growing marijuana industry.
“We are an established pharmaceutical company with a wide investor base,” Bothma says. “I’m not a user of cannabis. I do use the oil that we’ve developed for arthritis. Our organisation sees ourselves more as a pharmaceutical company producing cannabis products than a cannabis company.”
Of course, recent years have offered pharmaceutical companies a new raft of challenges.
“We’re dealing with narcotics, and this period of Covid-19 could not have come at a worse time for us,” Bothma admits. “We’re dealing with projects with Ministries of Health and Home Offices and Departments of Health all around the world, and all these departments have been under tremendous strain with the coronavirus. That has been a challenge while seeking export permits and import permits, especially while people aren’t in their offices. But we’ve slowly overcome it.”
Bothma admits that the crisis has slowed down MG Health’s progress, and put it a little behind schedule, but he remains optimistic.
“It has taken more time,” he says. “We would have liked to have GMP accreditation in June of 2020, but we only got it in March 2021, it’s slowed down the expansion of the business. The important factor for our business is that we have the capability to scale up, but that is taking longer than expected purely because of the challenges around Covid-19.”
As well as water and power, MG Health is also able to tap into another valuable resource-abundant at Ha Marakabei- people.
“There’s a small community of 2,000 people locally, and we employ 200 people from that village, a total of 300 people across the company,” Bothma says. “We tapped into the South African pool of specialists and pharmacists and have taken young talent on board and developed them over the last four years.”
For Bothma, this is absolutely a priority for ensuring the success of the company.
“I really believe we are all about people and having the right team in place,” he argues. “When you’re constructing a building if you have an A-grade team and B-grade equipment you can still deliver an A-grade building. But with a B-grade team and A-grade equipment, you will still only get a B-grade building. We are the first company in our sector to get EU certification, and we put that down to our team being able to execute it.”
Of course, finding that A-grade team is the trick. Bothma puts MG Health’s success down to luck, partly to good use of those local resources.
“I believe we were just very lucky to find the right people at the time. We have found professionals who were, in turn, able to hire the right people under them,” Bothma points out. “Then we went to our local university in 2017, and we recruited from their top students, youngsters who were not able to find jobs, and inducted them into the company. We are very happy with the quality of people able to be here.”
Having staff able to operate at this level is essential if MG Health is to become the global player it is working to be.
“These people are really excellent,” Bothma says. “One of the important things we decided on when we set up this business is that we want to be exporting medicines to Europe, which means operating at the highest standards of quality. Our lab operates to one of the highest standards for cannabis in the world.”
Of course, as well as drawing talent from the local community, MG Health also works to give back.
“If you look at the village, we’ve employed over 200 people and they are the only people there who can read and write English as you and I can,” Bothma points out. “They do a two-hour exam when they are recruited. If they don’t get at least 50% on that exam we’ll still employ them but also educate them, with full-time teachers working on site.”
MG Health is also working to improve the lifestyle of the village as a whole.
“When we started up, we did a detailed survey of every household and we got all the names, ages, and aspirations of the people who lived near us,” Bothma recalls. “From that, we realised we didn’t have enough toilets, and only half the village was electrified. We’ve upgraded the water system, we’ve built toilets, and we ensure all our staff are fed at work. We buy locally grown vegetables from local farmers. We’ve changed the way the village lives. It’s a completely different lifestyle there now.”
While this is admirable progress, Bothma insists it is only the beginning.
“What is important here is what this industry and our company can do for the future,” he tells us. “We are operating in a British protectorate that became independent in 1966, we are completely landlocked by South Africa and our biggest exports are diamonds, water to South Africa and textiles. The pharmaceutical industry can make a huge impact on the social and economic aspects of this country.”
MG Health is well on the way to making that impact, with the company already ripe for expansion.
“Currently we have more orders than we have production and we’re about to kick off another 10,000 square metres of the growth area, growing that to 15,000 square metres next year, and growing another 5,000 square metres a year after that,” Bothma says. “We are very excited. This is the industry really in its infancy.”