Fabtech, a transnational company, has been providing start-to-finish engineering solutions for pharma and biotech companies all over the world, including some very difficult regions like Syria. Aasif Ahsan Khan, Life Engineer & MD, Fabtech shares his company vision and learnings from working in diverse geographies
Fabtech’s website states, ‘Let’s make medicines affordable together.’ Can you explain how you make this vision possible?
We call ourselves Life Engineers. The work we do to build pharma capability indirectly gives doctors, researchers, lab techs and pharmacists vital tools they need to save lives.
Millions of people across the world die every year from diseases that are both treatable and preventable. Entire families and even villages are sometimes wiped out. Even when the drugs are available, often the cost of treatment is beyond the reach of people at greatest risk.
There is a lot of debate about how big pharma monopolies are responsible, but honestly, the problem is so much more complicated. Investments in research and responsibilities to shareholders often dictate the cost of medicine, even the life-saving variety. It’s not ideal, but it is the reality. International bodies like WHO do incredible work to bring affordable drugs to at-risk populations, but it isn’t enough.
I believe that the only way to make medicines more affordable and accessible to everyone is to build indigenous pharma capability. If we make it simple to share technology, if we build indigenous manufacturing capability, we can enable developing and under-developed countries across the world to be self-sufficient. They will have the resources they need to contain local disease patterns through indigenous production, to save lives, to bring down the cost of healthcare. Very simply, this is the ethos of life engineering and Fabtech’s purpose as an organisation.
How can Fabtech help life sciences companies’ accelerate their growth and optimise costs?
Companies the world over are looking to find economies within their existing markets and find opportunities to expand into new ones. We work with customers in 53 countries. We have a network of over a thousand customers, relationships we have built and nurtured over the last 18 years, and we can leverage these relationships to bring out synergies for our customers. We work with Indian companies to explore new business opportunities in pharmaceutical and biotech manufacturing across the world. We support them to overcome manufacturing challenges in these new geographies.
Say a customer wants to expand into a new market, one where Fabtech already has an established base, we can help them facilitate this expansion. We know the lay of the land, the culture, the challenges. We know which companies in those markets are looking to expand their product portfolio with the right technology. With our start-to-finish (turnkey) project solutions, we can help them manage and minimise their risk. Our emphasis on controlling every stage of the project management cycle in-house ensures we can deliver beyond expectations on every project – whether flexibility, operability or cost optimisations. It is literally the best of all worlds.
How do you partner firms across the globe in building their pharma and biotech capabilities?
Our presence in emerging geographies gives us the ability to help our customers build pharma and biotech capability right from market mapping to product selection to tech transfer, arranging the tech transfer, design and build, commissioning, installation, support to commercialisation.
Plus, we have the huge differentiating benefit of an equipment manufacturing base in India for air, water and process. Our partnerships with European pharma engineering companies allow us to offer solutions that are an ideal mix of state-of-the-art technology and economical pricing. We do about 40 projects a year around the world; our closest competitor does two. This allows us to leverage volumes and deliver economies without compromising on technology or performance.
Can you share some interesting examples of working in countries with different socioeconomic and political conditions?
You name a complex geography; we have a Fabtech story. Syria, particularly, is close to my heart, because we were born there. Our first project came from Syria. At the time Syria was nowhere on the development map. Just about everything was imported. From that very first project in Syria, we went on to build most of the country’s pharma manufacturing capability. We have seen their pharma industry grow from two companies to 75.
When the war hit, most of the companies active in Syria exited. We were the only company to leave our local installation team in place to support our clients. Our guys went beyond the brief and helped even non-customers move expensive equipment and machinery to safer areas.
We have built Ranbaxy’s plant in Nigeria. Nigeria is not only a complicated terrain, but security is a prime concern there. We ensure not only project deliverables but also provided logistics support and security for material and teams onsite. Not one screw went missing and not one worker suffered any injuries.
Afghanistan is another market we have supported. Recently, our team was there hours after the mosque blast in Herat which killed 120 people. We had our people stationed in Iraq for a long time to support customers.
We seek challenges because we seem to be built for them. We are drawn to situations that seem impossible. We call ourselves a war team. And with good reason.
What are the lessons learned from working in difficult conditions? How have you been applying it other contexts?
For one thing, whatever the conditions we work hard to build excellent relationships with our customers. This goes a long way to understanding their needs and responding to them.
Early on in our history, we realised that you could not deliver projects of this magnitude just sitting in your office in India flying in and out when something goes wrong. There are several challenges you have to deal with – culture, language, security, regulations. There are nuances only a local can understand. We consciously and deliberately set out to create local project teams. Having a local presence not only gives clients a sense of comfort – they know you aren’t a fly-by-night operation, and it helps us assess risks more accurately and manage projects more efficiently.
We can deliver savings to our customers not just on cost but time and effort wherever possible – technical, logistics or even customs clearance. Reliving customers of these coordination hassles is the most significant strength we possess, and this comes from our local presence.
We know we can manage projects anywhere in the world because we have consistently delivered them in impossible conditions. There are others who have tried and failed, and we’ve gone in and bailed their customers out. What we do may seem easy, but very few have the discipline, the endurance and the courage it takes to make what we do a reality.
What are the factors which will drive the future trends in pharma?
I think five factors will drive change in the pharma landscape.
One, emerging markets are going to increasingly influence global strategy for the pharmaceutical industry. Increasing spending power in these markets means they cannot be ignored.
Two, there will be more conversations about drug access and affordability driven by the social climate. Companies will be increasingly compelled to offer data that shows why their expensive medications are worth the premium.
Three, companies will collaborate a lot more, driven by necessity and to stay competitive.
Four, digital is changing the life sciences landscape – Amazon just made their entry in the US healthcare space – and the industry is going to have to evolve to this reality if they want to stay current.
And five, and this is a big one; the industry will be forever altered by the millennial and post-millennial generations of entrepreneurs and business leaders. These are people who have grown up in a digital era. They don’t see countries on a map; they see a world united by technology. Big players who live by conventional strategies will need to rethink their approach.
How is Fabtech poised to drive these trends and leverage the growth potential and opportunities that would arise?
Fabtech has one of the youngest demographics in the industry. More than two-thirds of our people are millennials. Generation Z or post-millennials have started joining our ranks. Both generations bring a brave new perspective of the world to our thinking, our strategy and our operations.
We will continue to strengthen our relationships with our customers and support them through all their goals and challenges. Customers will continue to benefit from our single window approach to all their capability building needs from tech transfer to equipment supply and support to commercialisation. We will continue to evolve our operational capabilities with greater control on each element of our operations as well as the whole, so our customers do not have to worry about a thing.