Drugs industry’s battle

Another casualty in the drugs industry’s battle

The pharmaceutical industry’s effort to find new ways of discovering and developing drugs has been underway for most of this decade, but it remains a struggle.

The latest sign is the replacement of Marc Cluzel as Sanofi-Aventis’s head of research by Eliaz Zerhouni, an adviser to the company’s chief executive, Chris Viehbacher.

The FT reports:

Since his appointment as scientific adviser to Mr Viehbacher in February 2009, the company said Mr Zerhouni had been “instrumental in redesigning the R&D model to foster increased innovation … [to] provide innovative solutions in response to specific, unmet needs of patients.”

It stressed the development – in line with similar measures taken by its peers in recent years – of scientific networks and openness to the external scientific world.

For as long as I have taken an interest in the industry – about eight years – it has been dominated by the same story – the crisis of patent expiry on the blockbuster drugs of the 1990s, and the need to somehow replenish the pipeline.

The change at the top of Sanofi-Aventis follows the resignation of Jeff Kindler as chairman and chief executive of Pfizer, on the grounds that he was exhausted by the job.

Some day, things will improve for big pharma but that day still looks a long way off.

‘West Bengal pharma sector has tremendous scope for growth and development in the coming years’

With decades of experience under his belt, Subharthee Dey needs no introduction. Former Vice-President, Indian Drug Manufacturers’ Association (IDMA) and Whole Time Director, Dey’s Medical Stores (Mfg) Ltd ( Dey’s Medical Stores) shared with Express Pharma the challenges and possibilities of the pharma industry in West Bengal and how he was instrumental in the five-decades old Dey’s Medical into a professionally run company.

Please share your views on West Bengal pharmaceutical industry, how optimistic are you about its future?

It is a well fact that Bengal’s tryst with the pharma industry could be traced back to the early 20th century when Acharya PC Roy, the visionary set up Bengal Chemicals and Pharmaceutical Works Ltd. Till the later part of the last century, Bengal held on to its leadership position but due to factors beyond control, it lost its place in the national perspective and our western counterparts seized the opportunity. So, inspite of being a sizable market for pharmal products, West Bengal’s contribution in terms of production slipped to an abysmal low.

But things have started changing in the recent past, efforts are on to revive the pharma sector in the state. Today, there has been a positive change in the attitude and mindset of the industry and the local pharma manufacturers are making all out efforts to make their presence felt in the national pharma arena. New entrepreneurs too have started entering the fray. I feel that the West Bengal pharma sector has tremendous scope for growth and development in the coming years.

What are the factors ailing the pharma industry in the state?

We were perhaps a little pre-occupied in preserving what little we have done and basking in the glory of our founding fathers rather than reworking our strategies to fight the onslaught posed by the new patent regime or by the MNCs. But better sense prevailed and they have taken lessons from their mistakes. They have realised the potential of the sector and re-oriented their strategies accordingly. Since then the scenario has changed rapidly in the last one decade and has become much more competitive than what it was in the early 70s.

Do you think it can emerge as a pharma hub in the region?

Why not. As you aware that human resource plays a very crucial role in knowledge-based industries like pharma and biotechnology, West Bengal biggest’s strength is its huge pool of educated human resource. The State houses some of the leading research institutes and Universities in the country. A favourable industrial climate, uninterrupted power supply, a stable and conducive socio-political environment, improved infrastructure facility and with a pro-active administration the state can become an ideal investment destination.

Tell us about Dey’s Medical Group, one of the leading and earliest entrants in this sector, which is operating from the state for more than 50 years now and how it

The 52-year old Dey’s Medical, which commenced commercial production of pharma formulations in January 1958, has been pursuing its goal to become a company with a high growth in its present segments of business.

Over the last few years, we completed the modernisation and refurbishment exercise of our existing pharma manufacturing facility in Kolkata. The facility manufacturing different dosage forms of drugs like capsules, tablets, oral liquid, drops, etc has been completely mechanised. Today, our manufacturing facilities conform to all the latest quality norms.

During the process of revamping it was felt that our manufacturing facility was over-staffed, so we effectively re-deployed and brought down our total workforce through a process of dialogue.

We replicated the same model in revamping our sales and marketing team. It was felt that our marketing team was falling behind our competitors due to the age-factor, so we reorganised the set up. Now we have brought down the average age to 35 years, which was above 50 years. The company also hired trained and skilled manpower to strengthen its sales and marketing team.

Young talents from technical institutes and colleges of the city are also undergoing intern programs at our facilities.

Another major development has been the deployment of technology in all spheres of our operations be it manufacturing, quality control, testing, administration etc. We have invested heavily on setting up technology backbone.

These initiatives have started showing results. We believe that we will be able to carry forward our growth momentum in the coming years.

On the product development front, we have introduced new molecules, ayurvedic and OTC products, which have been widely accepted by the consumers and the medical fraternity.

How you have strengthened your R&D efforts?

In the last few years, we have strengthened our in-house R&D activities. The fully equipped R&D Department is engaged in continuous development work on new formulation developments and improving process technology.

The company has also tied up with Indian Institute of Chemical Biology (IICB), a CSIR unit for development and standardisation of Ayurvedic formulations.

What pill do you like to prescribe for the growth of the regional players?

In West Bengal majority of the pharma companies are dependent on the government institutional business. It should not be the case. The pitfalls of the governmental business thwart the development and growth of the unit.

I believe that inspite of all the challenges and limitations, the Indian pharma industry looks very positive and holds opportunities for the local players. In order to seize the opportunities, they need to re-orient their strategies. The regional players need to strengthen their marketing initiatives, increase their product basket and concentrate on creating newer brands. They can explore possibilities like co-marketing, co-branding, EMR exercises to increase their bottomlines. Then only they can survive and grow in this competitive era.

Another area which is ignored by most of the pharma entrepreneurs is the speciality drugs sector which has a vast scope for growth.

The State Government too has a very important role to play in this direction. The industry not only needs direction but also guidance and support from the state government.

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