‘I foresee huge growth in bioprocess sector’
Tell us about the inception of GE Healthcare Lifesciences and the driving force behind it.
GE has traditionally been in the healthcare space with its imaging systems, such as (CT, MRI, X Ray, Ultrasound). Our vision was to be an end to end provider in healthcare (from diagnosis to treatment) by also enabling pharma and biopharma companies to make vaccines, drugs and insulin. We wanted to enter into early health or early predictive health. Keeping this in mind we made our first acquisition — Amersham, in the lifesciences space in 2004. Ever since we have done a whole lot of acquisitions in this space to make the whole domain more richer and better. These include Whatman, Xcellerex., PAA laboratories, API (Applied Precision), and most recently HyClone range of cell-culture business of Thermo Fisher.
How has the product portfolio at GE developed over time?
We have equipment and technologies for drug discovery and development and reagents. In the manufacturing space, we have products in the upstream process (bioreactors and cell culture media, fermentation) and downstream process (across multiple stages of purification).
Before acquiring Amersham and even a few years after acquiring it, we were broadly in the purification space. 90 per cent of FDA approved biopharmaceuticals are made using GE approved downstream purification equipment or media. In the last few years, we decided not to confine ourselves only to downstream, but also look at upstream. We acquired Xcellerex in 2012 that helped us add disposable bioreactors to our portfolio, but still we did not have a definite presence in the upstream space. It was then that we started eyeing cell culture space, which explains our acquisition of HyClone, that matches well with our strategy of end-to-end in bioprocessing, our overarching goal.
Tell us about your market share in India across various verticals within the company
India is a promising market for biotechnology. GE Healthcare Lifesciences India has been growing at the rate of 35 per cent for the last three years in a row, which is almost twice the market growth. Broadly speaking, we have four verticals, Bioprocess (biomanufacturing), research (drug discovery and analytical equipment), consummables (includes Whatman), services (value added services like validation, IQ, OQ, PQ). Whatman alone is a business worth around ` 50 crores and with it we command 70 per cent of the filter paper market. In protein purification, our market share is 60 to 65 per cent. Research consummables is a crowded space and we’d like to be strong here. In analytical equipment specially in Biacore we are strong. Bulk of the equipment and consummables in life sciences follow the market growth except for Bioprocess which has been growing in an excess of 50 per cent for the past few years. In the research space, 60-65 per cent of the business comes from Indian government sponsored academic institutions and educational institutions whereas in bioprocess 95 per cent of it is driven by industry.
What would you ascribe the growth in Bioprocess to?
India is not a research-oriented market, and hence generics or biosimilars dominate as opposed to innovative drugs. With most of the biotech drugs reaching the end of their patent expiry date, a market worth upto eight billion dollars is up for grabs. All Indian companies are eyeing this market, and also trying to duplicate the same in the biotech space. So even as patents expire, our customers are preparing themselves to enter that space. We are waiting for the biosimilars market to open up. It is a question of when will that happen. Healthcare costs in the US is horrendously high, with a huge pressure on the government to lower them, there’s no doubt that in few years time, say by 2018, the US will open up the market. In the next 10-15 years, I foresee tremendous growth in the bioprocess sector due to this.
What is your vision for the services division?
Our philosophy, is to not just be a vendor, but an equipment supplier. I realised that the way to do business in the Indian market is to start partnering with the customer and help them with all the things that we know. Working with big MNCs, we have acquired a lot of expertise that we can pass on to Indian companies. Apart from the commercial team (which faces the customer in sales/service or applications), Fastrak, a global centre in Bangalore houses a dedicated lab with seven to eight scientists that focuses on customer education and training alongwith process development and process validation. We are the only company in this space with a team of upto 27 service engineers.
How do Indian companies compare with their counterparts abroad? Are their needs and requirements different?
Biotech is one space where Indian companies are stronger than foreign companies in India. There aren’t too many MNCs which are bigger than homegrown companies if we overlook recent acquisitions. They are bigger individually as well as collectively (forming 80 per cent of the total market) as well. This dynamic is hard to find in other industries. The market for these companies is overseas, so they need to exercise a high level of sophistication, technical expertise, quality control and follow US rules and regulations. Therefore their needs and requirements are no different than foreign companies.
What are some of the products launched recently to meet customer needs?
More and more customers are looking to invest in single use disposable systems rather than building huge stainless steel factories. While this shoots up the cost of consummables, the fixed cost is reduced drastically. The demand for our Xcellerex disposable bioreactors has gone up and the concept is catching up. It would take a few years for it to gain a level of acceptance and I foresee this as a trend going forward. To address affordability, we came out with AKTAStart, a lab purification system designed and developed in India, manufactured abroad. It is a table top model for entry level biotech customers such as universities, educational institutions and first time primary investigators that costs Rs 5-6 lakhs.