‘India can be an innovator as well as a leader in generics’

Dr Swati Piramal, Vice Chairperson, Piramal Enterprises stresses on the need for new government policies in an interaction with Viveka Roychowdhury

Piramal Healthcare has announced that it is re-focussing on late-stage research rather than early-stage research. What is the future course for the pharma sector in India? Is it doomed to be an imitator rather than an innovator?

Dr Swati Piramal

Piramal Enterprises will continue to focus on drug development. It is only downsizing drug discovery in Mumbai but will continue research and development in nine other facilities. These include Ahmedabad, Hyderabad, Chennai and Indore and five facilities in the US, the UK and Germany.

India can be an innovator as well as a leader in generics. However, to be an innovator all parts of the ecosystem including clinical trials, intellectual property, research tax credits etc must also be developed. These depend heavily on a forward looking government policy. It is clear that extensive price controls deter innovation.

You and many industry leaders have been critical of the indecision surrounding policy change, an attitude of not consulting the industry. What are your expectations from the NaMo government? Can he and his team reverse this trend?

Indeed, activists have not invested anything in making medicines. Scientists spend most of their life studying only a part of a human cell, they fail 99 times out of 100 of discovering and successfully launching a drug, the process takes 12 years at least. People are not aware what it takes and the years of hard work that go into making a tiny pill that has the power to cure disease. We are hopeful that the NaMo government will be alerted by falling investment in new manufacturing, slow domestic sales. Again the new government must call a halt to increasing price control as that is short-sighted. Instead focus on better distribution and buying strategies by state governments.

What about the industry’s attitude to implementing GMP and GCP guidelines. Have unscrupulous players who took advantage of the regulators’ inability to implement and enforce these standards, come to define the industry’s standards?

Indeed, small operators and manufacturers have defied the norms set by the regulator particularly relating to GMP guidelines. Larger companies who make the same standards of drugs whether the consumer is Indian or foreign are subjected to price controls where the price offered by these kind of poor quality operators is compared to the best quality ones. It is like comparing apples and oranges though the medicine has the same generic name.

Is this the reason for the ‘Look West’ policy of Indian pharma leaders in total reversal of the ‘Look East’ to India policy, which was touted just a couple of years ago?

The India Advantage – the promise is being lost and Indian companies are looking West as regulatory bottlenecks are stymying the promise of Look East.

India can make drugs for a tenth of the cost in the West for the six billion people in the world who cannot afford Western prices. Indian pharmaceuticals can reduce the burden of disease not just in India but globally. The biotechnology and life sciences sector can follow the IT sector and India can become the centre of innovation and be the drug maker for the whole world.

However, the mind-set of price control and low consumer prices continues and hampers the great potential of Indian technology to make enormous gains on public health. In five years if this industry is not liberalised and competition not allowed, most of the drugs will come from the West at even higher prices. Tropical diseases will have no cures and the ordinary consumer short-changed by a leadership that is short-sighted. Most of the scientific talent will not reach its full potential unless this sector is liberalised. Research needs investment and this is the time to make these investments or countries like China will win the race hands down. World class clinical trials need to be done in India to develop the ecosystem of innovation.

Any quick fix solutions? And long-term measures you would like to suggest?

A hard look needs to be taken by the government. With different ministries – health and pharmaceuticals, environment and commerce and law – all need to iron out the bottlenecks. The status quo cannot continue if we want to once again regain global leadership in the pharmaceutical sector.

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