Since the past few years, lack of funding, distrustful investors, and weak global economic conditions have made survival a tall task for the biotechnology industry in India. However, companies like Fermenta Biotech Limited have survived and thrived, thanks to a clear vision and consistently taking new products to market By Sachin Jagdale
When the going is tough, the tough get going. This adage could very well describe the attitude of Mumbai-headquartered Fermenta Biotech Limited (FBL). The company’s turnover dipped slightly in FY2013 to Rs 101.67 crores from Rs 105.30 crores in FY2012, recovered in FY2014 to a much better Rs 127.16 crore across its four business divisions: biotech, pharma, vit D3 and environment solutions.
Describing the current situation in the country’s biotechnology industry, Satish Varma, Managing Director, FBL, says, “The major biotech companies in the pharmaceutical sector are typically doing well. Apart from continuous improvement in the cost and quality of existing products to stay competitive, they also work on introducing new products in their portfolio for overall growth. This principle applies to most of products that can only be manufactured through a biotech / fermentation process.”
Over the last decade, most of the large global pharma companies have focused largely on replacing chemical processes used for existing products with enzymatic / biotech processes. As biotech R&D is time consuming and tricky, very few companies have been able to sustain these efforts. FBL is prominent among these few companies.
Varma informs, “The further challenge is that existing chemical processes are time tested and have more or less reached their peak efficiencies, (so) the biotech replacement target is already set very high. Moreover, very few companies have the entire skill set and experience in this segment. Companies are now looking at collaborative approaches with academic institutions or specialised service providers.”
“Added to this is the challenge of obtaining patent protection and restricting copycat competition, as minor changes in the production strain or source of strain itself can allow other players to enter the market without the efforts and resources put in by the inventor company. In order to overcome this IPR challenge, companies that develop enzymes and technologies for existing chemical processes are looking at changing their model from supply of these enzymes to themselves getting into manufacturing of the end product by using their enzymes thereby limiting exposure to technology sharing,” he adds.
Enzymes remain the focus
FBL is a leading enzyme manufacturing company in the country having its manufacturing units located at Dahej and Kullu. Set up in 1986, FBL pioneered the manufacture of penicillin G amidase enzyme in the country and emerged as a pioneer of immobilised enzymes and technologies for beta lactams (ß-lactams) synthesis. FBL has regularly introduced enzymes for manufacturing different semi-synthetic penicillin products in India. The company claims that Enzyme. Efficiency. Environment. Economics – are the four guiding principles of their biotech products division.
Varma informs, “Our experience in this field has been that typically an efficient enzymatic process will always give a cost effective and higher quality product compared to a chemical process. We continue to manufacture and supply enzymes in this segment and enjoy a good market share in India. Our future efforts are towards collaborative efforts with existing pharma companies to target other products for replacing the current chemical processes with enzymatic processes.”
Enzymes for green pharma
Chemicals are an integral part of the pharma industry. As chemicals are always blamed for their negative impact on the environment, their user, the pharma industry, has also been listed among the heaviest environment polluting industries. However, now the pharma industry has a solution in the form of enzymes to reduce the quantity of pollutants.
“A typical chemical process uses high amount of solvents and other toxic chemical for the reactions, which is completely eliminated (or minutely used) during an enzymatic process. This results in drastic reduction of effluent load and number of steps (energy consumption) thereby making it green/ environment friendly apart from making it a safe process in terms of human exposure. In addition to this, due to reduction of use of other chemicals and solvents, the end product purity and quality also is enhanced,” informs Varma.
Company with a difference
FBL has always been in the forefront, developing proprietary patented technologies and always committed to next generation approaches. In addition to consistent quality supplies, FBL offers complete technical support in educating and scaling up enzyme based technologies. “We create and add value to customers in their journey of transformation. FBL currently does not supply their enzymes to non-pharma sectors,” says Varma.
Varma signs off saying, “We enjoy more than 50 per cent market share in the segments we are present in. FBL is looking at partnering with other pharma and technology companies to bring in more enzymes and technologies in this space. We are also considering the possibility of entering the fermentation-based API segment through the same approach.” Clearly, tough times do not scare this company.