The year was 1978 and a young sprightly girl armed with a Malting and Brewing degree who had worked in breweries in Australia and later in Kolkata ventured to become a master brewster in India following her father’s expertise in the field. But the field dominated or ruled solely by men didn’t take to her enthusiasm and tried to oust her out. Undeterred, instead of giving up her dream, she shifted her focus to a business that is linked to brewing – biotechnology and created history. But the path wasn’t simple. When Kiran Mazumdar Shaw started Biocon India, a business she referred to in newspaper ads as a “multinational company”, she didn’t tell applicants that she was operating out of her home garage. With just two unlikely employees, a master brewer’s certificate, and her father’s blessing Mazumdar-Shaw began a business specializing in industrial enzymes for food and textile makers around the globe. Today Biocon is the largest biotech corporation in India and home to more than 7,500 employees. In recent years the business has expanded into the pharmaceutical industry, becoming Asia’s chief producer of insulin and an innovator of treatments for diabetes and rheumatoid arthritis. Manju Ramanan speaks to Chairperson Biocon Kiran Mazumdar Shaw who was in Dubai for a strategic tie up
What is the your visit to Dubai about?
I am in Dubai for a strategic partnership. Biocon in India has its UAE collaboration NeoBiocon, a collaboration between Asia’s leading biopharmaceuticals company Biocon Ltd and Dr. B.R. Shetty, Chairman of the UAE-based Neopharma. NeoBiocon is amongst the fastest growing pharmaceutical companies in UAE and is ranked amongst the top 25 pharma companies in the region. It is the no.1 generic pharma company in UAE, in the cardiovascular segment with successful brands like Statix (atorvastatin). NeoBiocon is committed to bring innovative products to the GCC market and enhancing capabilities of the local manufacturers. Established in 2011, NeoBiocon markets its own brands in UAE & other GCC markets in various therapies such as metabolics, oncology, asthma & allergic rhinitis, anti-infectives and others. Through this partnership with a multinational pharma company, NeoBiocon has further strengthened its resolve to create a positive impact in the lives of the patient’s through innovative products. NeoBiocon has now partnered with Novartis Middle East FZE, to market Jalra (Vildagliptin) and Jalra-M (Vildagliptin + Metformin) in UAE. Vildagliptin is an oral anti-diabetic agent that delivers consistent and robust blood sugar control in patients with type 2 diabetes. It is a class of dipeptidyl peptidase IV (DPP-IV) inhibitors, which do not cause weight gain and have low risks for hypoglycaemia. The overall market for oral hypoglycaemic agents (OHA) in UAE is estimated to be USD 115 million and DPP-IV inhibitors command nearly 50% share of this market. This partnership will help NeoBiocon expand its product offerings in the metabolics segment and will immensely benefit diabetics in UAE. NeoBiocon has received approvals from the Ministry of Health-UAE for marketing Jalra and Jalra-M in the country and the launch is scheduled for Jan 2016. These products will be manufactured by Novartis in Europe and marketed and distributed by NeoBiocon in UAE after local release through Neopharma. Biocon is committed to offer advanced therapies for diabetics the world over. We are indeed pleased to partner with Novartis to offer Jalra and Jalra-M to address the growing needs of type 2 diabetes patients in UAE.
In layman terms how is the partnership going to help the UAE?
The partnership between NeoBiocon and Novartis will benefit the large and increasing number of diabetics in the UAE. This will result in enhancing access to this novel oral hypoglycaemic agent. This could not have happened without the vision of the UAE Government, and the great support from the UAE Health Authorities, and MOH who continuously encourage investment, innovations and improving patient’s lives.
Back to your story, how did you shift your focus from brewing to biotechnology?
I started with making industrial enzymes, and a lot of those enzymes were actually designed for brewing. A space I have been extremely familiar with. I was very excited to do something that was path breaking. It was a pioneering industry, and I was a pioneer because I had nobody to follow. I had none to show me the way. Or, tell me what to do with this business.
What do you aim to do in the Middle East?
We are a company that wants to have a presence in this area. Our UAE operations already have a 66-member team. We are moving towards a 100 employee Dubai branch and we are pleased at the way we are accepted. Dubai is the main office but we have several partners in the Middle East.
How important is it to keep innovating?
For 20 years I was into the enzyme business. Enzymes are organic catalysts and we were trying to replace chemical technology with enzyme technology that is bio friendly. We started it when nobody cared if they were polluting the atmosphere or not. It was exciting to build that kind of sector for green technology. After 20 years in the business we started looking at bio pharmaceuticals. Today we are the largest producers of staton – a cholestrol reducing drug and we supply to various companies that then tablet them. One in two staton is a biocon product. We are also developing insulin analogs and have partnered with Mylan and are the largest producer of insulin in the world. We have a facility in India as well as Malaysia. We also have a pipeline of products called biosimialars and our innovative programmes are fast developing various kinds of new products for the markets of the future. One of the most advanced and innovative product is an insulin like product in a tablet form. This is under clinical trial and will see the light of day in a few years.
What about leadership progammes?
We have many leadership programmes wherein we identify a group that we give advance training to. We encourage women to take up active roles in areas that are usually dominated by men. We still need more women in field jobs though we do have a lot of them in research. They need to push their boundaries and explore the world. Conventional roles are easy to slip into. What we are looking for are spaces that they need to conquer – production, sales etc.
What about expansion?
Biocon Ltd expects revenue to double to $1 billion in four years as it expands in Europe and the United States with new products. We have tied up with US generic drugmaker Mylan NV, with five biosimilar products – almost identical copies of original drugs – entering global regulatory approval stage which is expected to take about 18- 20 months. We forecast that by financial year 2019 our revenues will be $1 billion with 25 per cent coming from research and 75 per cent from rest of our business. Biocon’s revenues were a little less than $500 million for fiscal 2014-15. Of the 70 per cent of the products that it exports, the United States and Europe account for 50 per cent. Biocon has invested over $200 million in research and development to develop biosimilars at its Malaysia facility, currently in its commissioning phase.
You are trained in classical music as well?
Yes when I was in Baroda, I learnt music under the student of Ustad Faiyaz Khan. I have been drawn to classical music and try and sing for myself. I have had the privilege of hearing several known musicians sing and revel in their work.
Photograph by: Sulthan Khan