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When patience is not a virtue


20150531ep02India once again made it to the Priority Watch list of the 2015 USTR Special 301 Report, but this year, the reaction from India’s pharma industry was more measured. (See news story: ‘2015 USTR Special 301 Report: Reactions and the way forward;

While industry associations OPPI and IDMA reacted along expected lines, a more nuanced reaction came from Dr Gopakumar G Nair as Chairman of IDMA’s IPR Sub Committee. His opinion that ‘S. 3(d) has done its job’ is bound to raise at least a few eyebrows among industry observers.

Nair’s point as IDMA’s IPR counsel is that as ‘the international community has taken note of its contribution and so the relevance of 3(d) in its present form may be opened for a debate and deliberation, even though it is India’s position that it is equally useful and adversely impacting incremental innovations of MNCs as well as research-based Indian companies.’

Even as IDMA Secretary Daara Patel’s comments follow the line of previous IDMA statements on IPR, Nair’s comments give glimpses of a moderation of tone and tenor, without ceding ground on key issues. IDMA’s new stance shows signs of self-confidence and movement away from a defensive position, and indeed the latter’s statement advises the country to follow suit as well.

It is in this context that Nair’s statement concludes that there are common elements and threads between the PMO (one assumes he is referring to PM Modi’s controversial statement at the Commerce Ministry’s first Global Exhibition on Services (GES) Summit) and Commerce Ministry Nirmala Seetharaman’s comment that India’s IP policy is compliant with global norms.

In a more recent discussion on the sidelines of another industry meet, Commerce Ministry officials explained that the apparent disconnect between the two comments was due to two reasons. One, the PM’s real message was ‘lost in translation’ as he made the statement in Hindi. Secondly, since the PM was speaking at the GES Summit, his comments should be taken in the context of that summit and audience.

If I’m reading the tea leaves right, IDMA’s statements are only following the example of our Prime Minister, who has encouraged engagement and dialogue on the most contentious issues. India would do well to heed the warning of Professor Brook Baker, Northeastern U School of Law, and Senior Policy Analyst, Health GAP, also quoted in the news piece referred to above, who calls the annual USTR report a cat-and-mouse game, and urges India to clarify its stance on various IPR issues as soon as possible.

Equally important is a comment from Roger Bate, Economist, Resident Fellow of the American Enterprise Institute who warns that everyone is confused (about India’s IPR policy) and confusion prevents investment.

India’s pharma industry has many more pain points beyond IPR. There are some signs (finally) that various ministries are working in tandem to fix some of these issues. But when will the talk translate into measurable, meaningful and sustainable results?

For instance, the inauguration of the recent 2015 iPHEX exhibition saw key policy makers list out their plans to revive API manufacture and invigorate pharma exports. (See report: Boosting APIs and exports take top priority at 3rd iPhex 2015, The common refrain was that we would see the difference in the next few years,  but will the various segments of India’s pharma industry be patient enough to wait till these efforts bear fruit?

Faster policy implementation could make or break companies like Mankind Pharma, who are at a crucial crossroad. The man on the cover of this issue, Ramesh Juneja, Founder and Chairman, Mankind Pharma is counting on exports, affordable and safe indigenous APIs as well as forays into biologics and nutraceuticals to take his company to the next level. (See story: Mankind’s next force, pages 20-23 in the May 16-31, 2015 issue)

Entrepreneurs like Juneja are not afraid to take risks, with aggressive marketing and rock-bottom pricing. In this volumes game, Juneja chose a category considered ‘taboo’ by serious pharma companies to build his company’s brand image: the OTC ‘sexual health’ category spanning products like emergency contraceptive pills, condoms and gels for erectile dysfunction. The company continues with this dual strategy, recently hiring porn star turned actor Sunny Leone as brand ambassador while Juneja and team build a global footprint, targeting a Rs 5000-crore turnover by 2017.

Juneja’s story is similar to many home grown pharma companies in India. It is up to our policy makers to enable many more Mankind Pharmas and RC Junejas to rise to the next level. Entrepreneur-promoters will agree that opportunity knocks but once. Very clearly, their patience has its limits.

Viveka Roychowdhury

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