NBI – Pride and Plasma Production

Head of Business Development Shanay Singh discusses NBI’s non-profit pharmaceutical products and services, as well as their work in the local South African community.

NBI (National Bioproducts Institute South Africa) is a non-profit pharmaceutical organisation based in Paradise Valley, South Africa. The organisation was established in 1994 but has existed in various forms since the early 1960s. The company is known for products formed from human blood plasma which can include clotting proteins or fresh frozen plasma that can then be used to treat conditions such as bleeding disorders.

“We use a process called plasma-fractionation which is to separate human plasma into its various constituent proteins that can be used to form pharmaceutical products. These products conform to all pharmaceutical norms and standards and are registered by the relevant authorities,” explains Head of Business Development Shanay Singh. “We have also expanded into biotech, such as the manufacturing of antibodies used in malaria test kits. This has been used to great effect in Africa, where malaria is very prevalent” he further details.

COVID-19 Impact

Singh’s division has a particular focus within NBI. “I am the head of business development. I work across a number of areas including sales and marketing, identifying new territories and signing deals with partners that share our ideology. We are very proud to be a non-profit company.  Our main focus is on our patients” he explains.

Their work was made more challenging in the last couple of years due to the impact of COVID-19 in South Africa. “Like a lot of companies, the COVID-19 pandemic hit us hard, especially with the number of variants and the lower vaccination rate in South Africa.  This also presented logistical challenges for us. Obtaining plasma was a challenge because people were unable to go out due to lockdown, while patients in rural areas struggled to get medication” Singh recalls.

Despite the adverse circumstances, NBI was adept at dealing with the change. “We did this through collaboration, innovation and a strong culture of teamwork amongst our Product Consultants. In some cases, we (they) physically took the stock to where it needed to be. We also worked closely with patient advocacy groups (such as haemophilia and critical care patients) to get medication to the most vulnerable people. Without this medication, the impact on the patients could have been fatal. I am glad to say we managed to get through it” he says, relieved.

Community Care

NBI employs 270 people and requires people with specific experience and skillsets. “We are the only plasma fractionator in Africa, which is different from a standard pharmaceutical role. When looking for potential employees, we aim to find people with the right attitude, to see who has the potential to learn the right skills” Singh states.

Many people have benefited from a long career at NBI. “In NBI, our staff turnover is not very high and we have had employees work for us from 15 to 30 years and our CEO has been with us for over 36 years. With anyone who wants to work for us, the key is temperament, attitude and then knowledge,” Singh explains.

As well as providing a stable environment for their employees, NBI is also using various programs to reach out to vulnerable people in the local community to ensure they receive better access to healthcare. “We support community initiatives based around the work we do. This includes working with patient advocacy groups such as the South African Haemophilia Foundation. We donate funding so that they can provide nurses, help with home care, as well as provide educational programs and raising awareness” Singh details. While recent research has suggested that treatment for haemophilia in South Africa is improving there are still issues for patients needing to access facilities and care, so NBI’s work is crucial in identifying people who have the condition and ensuring they get the help they need.

Another major project has been NBI’s support of the PID (Primary Immunodeficiency Disorder) register. PID refers to a condition where part of the immune system is compromised. There are over 130 recognised PID disorders to date, with new variants being discovered all the time, which makes tracking them all the more important.  “For the last 17 years, we have also supported the PID register. This allows us to track PID patients in South Africa, as well as provide information and awareness. This is how we can make the biggest impact” Singh further details.

Focused on the Future

Singh is excited about NBI’s prospects for the future. While the company cannot discuss specific products due to confidentiality agreements, Singh can outline the overall plans of the business for the foreseeable future. “NBI has a pipeline of new products that will soon be available, as well as a raft of new services. These services will include laboratory and analytical services. This will make it easier for companies in South Africa to test and release products here” he states.  NBI is also looking to expand its operations, offering its services to neighbouring countries outside South Africa.

The new services that NBI offers could prove massively important for the pharmaceutical industry in South Africa and neighbouring countries, cutting costs and reducing waiting times. “Traditionally, companies have had to spend money to send products overseas to get them tested, which has also meant additional time waiting for test results to come back. We will be launching a monocyte activation test. As far as we know, we are the only company in South Africa offering these test services, which are very important for ensuring products are safe,” Singh details.

Singh believes in the values of NBI, as a non-profit company providing advancements in pharmaceutical technology but also as an organisation offering support to the wider local community. “We are proud to be a South African company and to stay true to our roots. Our patients and employees are our number one concern and they see the benefits of that.”

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