R&D: Is Indian Pharma Moving Up the Value Chain?

It almost went unnoticed by many, when in the post product patent regime, Ranbaxy launched its first homegrown ‘New Drug’ of India, Synriam, on April 25, 2012, coinciding with the ‘World Malaria Day’. The drug is used in the treatment of plasmodium falciparum malaria affecting adult patients.  However, the company has also announced its plans to extend the benefits of Synriam to children in the malaria endemic zones of Asia and Africa.

The new drug is highly efficacious with a cure rate of over 95 percent offering advantages of “compliance and convenience” too. The full course of treatment is one tablet a day for three days costing less than US$ 2.0 to a patient.

Synriam was developed by Ranbaxy in collaboration with the Department of Science  and Technology of the Government of India. The project received support from the Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR) and conforms to the recommendations of the World Health Organization (WHO). The R&D cost for this drug was reported to be around US$ 30 million. After its regulatory approval in India, Synriam is now being registered in many other countries of the world.

Close on the heels of the above launch, in June 2013 another pharmaceutical major of India, Zydus Cadilla announced that the company is ready for launch in India its first New Chemical Entity (NCE) for the treatment of diabetic dyslipidemia. The NCE called Lipaglyn has been discovered and developed in India and is getting ready for launch in the global markets too.

The key highlights of Lipaglyn are reportedly as follows:

  • The first Glitazar to be approved in the world.
  • The Drug Controller General of India (DCGI) has already approved the drug for launch in India.
  • Over 80% of all diabetic patients are estimated to be suffering from diabetic dyslipidemia. There are more than 350 million diabetics globally – so the people suffering from diabetic dyslipidemia could be around 300 million.

With 20 discovery research programs under various stages of clinical development, Zydus Cadilla reportedly invests over 7 percent of its turnover in R&D.  At the company’s state-of-the-art research facility, the Zydus Research Centre, over 400 research scientists are currently engaged in NCE research alone.

Prior to this in May 14, 2013, the Government of India’s Department of Biotechnology (DBT) and Indian vaccine company Bharat Biotech jointly announced positive results, having excellent safety and efficacy profile in Phase III clinical trials, of an indigenously developed rotavirus vaccine.

The vaccine name Rotavac is considered to be an important scientific breakthrough against rotavirus infections, the most severe and lethal cause of childhood diarrhea, responsible for approximately 100,000 deaths of small children in India each year.

Bharat Biotech has announced a price of US$ 1.00/dose for Rotavac. When approved by the Drug Controller General of India, Rotavac will be a more affordable alternative to the rotavirus vaccines currently available in the Indian market. 

It is indeed interesting to note, a number of local Indian companies have started investing in pharmaceutical R&D to move up the industry value chain and are making rapid strides in this direction.

Indian Pharma poised to move-up the value-chain:

Over the past decade or so, India has acquired capabilities and honed skills in several important areas of pharma R&D, like for example:

  • Cost effective process development
  • Custom synthesis
  • Physical and chemical characterization of molecules
  • Genomics
  • Bio-pharmaceutics
  • Toxicology studies
  • Execution of phase 2 and phase 3 studies

According to a paper titled, “The R&D Scenario in Indian Pharmaceutical Industry” published by Research and Information System for Developing Countries, over 50 NCEs/NMEs of the Indian Companies are currently at different stages of development, as follows:

Company Compounds Therapy Areas Status
Biocon 7 Oncology, Inflammation, Diabetes Pre-clinical, phase II, III
Wockhardt 2 Anti-infective Phase I, II
Piramal Healthcare 21 Oncology, Inflammation, Diabetes Lead selection, Pre-clinical, Phase I, II
Lupin 6 Migraine, TB, Psoriasis, Diabetes, Rheumatoid Arthritis Pre-clinical, Phase I, II, III
Torrent 1 Diabetic heart failure Phase I
Dr. Reddy’s Lab 6 Metabolic/Cardiovascular disorders, Psoriasis, migraine On going, Phase I, II
Glenmark 8 Metabolic/Cardiovascular /Respiratory/Inflammatory /Skin disorders, Anti-platelet, Adjunct to PCI/Acute Coronary Syndrome, Anti-diarrheal, Neuropathic Pain, Skin Disorders, Multiple Sclerosis, Ongoing, Pre-clinical, Phase I, II, III

R&D collaboration and partnership:

Some of these domestic companies are also entering into licensing agreements with the global players in the R&D space. Some examples are reportedly as follows:

  • Glenmark has inked licensing deals with Sanofi of France and Forest Laboratories of the United States to develop three of its own patented molecules.
  • Domestic drug major Biocon has signed an agreement with Bristol Myers Squibb (BMS) for new drug candidates.
  • Piramal Life Sciences too entered into two risk-reward sharing deals in 2007 with Merck and Eli Lilly, to enrich its research pipeline of drugs.
  • Jubilant Group partnered with Janssen Pharma of Belgium and AstraZeneca of the United Kingdom for pharma R&D in India, last year.

All these are just indicative collaborative R&D initiatives in the Indian pharmaceutical industry towards harnessing immense growth potential of this area for a win-win business outcome.

The critical mass:

An international study estimated that out of 10,000 molecules synthesized, only 20 reach the preclinical stage, 10 the clinical trials stage and ultimately only one gets regulatory approval for marketing. If one takes this estimate into consideration, the research pipeline of the Indian companies would require to have at least 20 molecules at the pre-clinical stage to be able to launch one innovative product in the market.

Though pharmaceutical R&D investments in India are increasing, still these are not good enough. The Annual Report for 2011-12 of the Department of Pharmaceuticals indicates that investments made by the domestic pharmaceutical companies in R&D registered an increase from 1.34 per cent of sales in 1995 to 4.5 percent in 2010. Similarly, the R&D expenditure for the MNCs in India has increased from 0.77 percent of their net sales in 1995 to 4.01 percent in 2010.

Thus, it is quite clear, both the domestic companies and the MNCs are not spending enough on R&D in India. As a result, at the individual company level, India is yet to garner the critical mass in this important area.

No major R&D investments in India by large MNCs:

According to a report, major foreign players with noteworthy commercial operations in India have spent either nothing or very small amount towards pharmaceutical R&D in the country. The report also mentions that Swiss multinational Novartis, which spent $ 9 billion on R&D in 2012 globally, does not do any R&D in India.

Analogue R&D strategy could throw greater challenges:

For adopting the analogue research strategy, by and large, the Indian pharma players appear to run the additional challenge of proving enhanced clinical efficacy over the known substance to pass the acid test of the Section 3(d) of the Patents Act of India.

Public sector R&D:

In addition to the private sector, research laboratories in the public sector under the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR) like, Central Drug Research Institute (CDRI), Indian Institute of Chemical Technology (IICT) and National Chemical Laboratory (NCL) have also started contributing to the growth of the Indian pharmaceutical industry.

As McKinsey & company estimated, given adequate thrust, the R&D costs in India could be much lower, only 40 to 60 per cent of the costs incurred in the US. However, in reality R&D investments of the largest global pharma R&D spenders in India are still insignificant, although they have been expressing keenness for Foreign Direct Investments (FDI) mostly in the brownfield pharma sector.

Cost-arbitrage:

Based on available information, global pharma R&D spending is estimated to be over US$ 60 billion. Taking the cost arbitrage of India into account, the global R&D spend at Indian prices comes to around US$ 24 billion. To achieve even 5 percent of this total expenditure, India should have invested by now around US$ 1.2 billion on the pharmaceutical R&D alone. Unfortunately that has not been achieved just yet, as discussed above.

Areas of cost-arbitrage:

A survey done by the Boston Consulting Group (BCG) in 2011 with the senior executives from the American and European pharmaceutical companies, highlights the following areas of perceived R&D cost arbitrage in India:

Areas % Respondents
Low overall cost 73
Access to patient pool 70
Data management/Informatics 55
Infrastructure set up 52
Talent 48
Capabilities in new TA 15

That said, India should realize that the current cost arbitrage of the country is not sustainable on a longer-term basis. Thus, to ‘make hay while the sun shines’ and harness its competitive edge in this part of the world, the country should take proactive steps to attract both domestic as well as Foreign Direct Investments (FDI) in R&D with appropriate policy measures and fiscal incentives.

Simultaneously, aggressive capacity building initiatives in the R&D space, regulatory reforms based on the longer term need of the country and intensive scientific education and training would play critical role to establish India as an attractive global hub in this part of the world to discover and develop newer medicines for all.

Funding:

Accessing the world markets is the greatest opportunity in the entire process of globalization and the funds available abroad could play an important role to boost R&D in India. Inadequacy of funds in the Indian pharmaceutical R&D space is now one of the greatest concerns for the country.

The various ways of funding R&D could be considered as follows:

  • Self-financing Research: This is based on:
  1. “CSIR Model”: Recover research costs through commercialization/ collaboration with industries to fund research projects.
  2. “Dr Reddy’s Lab / Glenmark Model”: Recover research costs by selling lead compounds without taking through to development.
  • Overseas Funding:  By way of joint R&D ventures with overseas collaborators, seeking grants from overseas health foundations, earnings from contract research as also from clinical development and transfer of aborted leads and collaborative projects on ‘Orphan Drugs’.
  • Venture Capital & Equity Market:  This could be both via ‘Private Venture Capital Funds’ and ‘Special Government Institutions’.  If regulations permit, foreign venture funds may also wish to participate in such initiatives. Venture Capital and Equity Financing could emerge as important sources of finance once track record is demonstrated and ‘early wins’ are recorded.
  • Fiscal & Non-Fiscal Support: Should also be valuable in early stages of R&D, for which a variety of schemes are possible as follows:
  1. Customs Duty Concessions: For Imports of specialized equipment, e.g. high throughput screening equipment, equipment for combinatorial chemistry, special analytical tools, specialized pilot plants, etc.
  2. Income tax concessions (weighted tax deductibility): For both in-house and sponsored research programs.
  3. Soft loans: For financing approved R&D projects from the Government financial institutions / banks.
  4. Tax holidays: Deferrals, loans on earnings from R&D.
  5. Government funding: Government grants though available, tend to be small and typically targeted to government institutions or research bodies. There is very little government support for private sector R&D as on date.

All these schemes need to be simple and hassle free and the eligibility criteria must be stringent to prevent any possible misuse.

Patent infrastructure:

Overall Indian patent infrastructure needs to be strengthened, among others, in the following areas:

  • Enhancement of patent literacy both in legal and scientific communities, who must be taught how to read, write and file a probe.
  • Making available appropriate ‘Search Engines’ to Indian scientists to facilitate worldwide patent searches.
  • Creating world class Indian Patent Offices (IPOs) where the examination skills and resources will need considerable enhancement.
  • ‘Advisory Services’ on patents to Indian scientists to help filing patents in other countries could play an important role.

Creating R&D ecosystem:

  • Knowledge and learning need to be upgraded through the universities and specialist centers of learning within India.
  • Science and Technological achievements should be recognized and rewarded through financial grants and future funding should be linked to scientific achievements.
  • Indian scientists working abroad are now inclined to return to India or network with laboratories in India. This trend should be effectively leveraged.

Universities to play a critical role:

Most of Indian raw scientific talents go abroad to pursue higher studies.  International Schools of Science like Stanford or Rutgers should be encouraged to set up schools in India, just like Kellogg’s and Wharton who have set up Business Schools. It has, however, been reported that the Government of India is actively looking into this matter.

‘Open Innovation’ Model:

As the name suggest, ‘Open Innovation’ or the ‘Open Source Drug Discovery (OSDD)’ is an open source code model of discovering a New Chemical Entity (NCE) or a New Molecular Entity (NME). In this model all data generated related to the discovery research will be available in the open for collaborative inputs. In ‘Open Innovation’, the key component is the supportive pathway of its information network, which is driven by three key parameters of open development, open access and open source.

Council of Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR) of India has adopted OSDD to discover more effective anti-tubercular medicines.

Insignificant R&D investment in Asia-Pacific Region:

Available data indicate that 85 percent of the medicines produced by the global pharmaceutical industry originate from North America, Europe, Japan and some from Latin America and the developed nations hold 97 percent of the total pharmaceutical patents worldwide.

MedTRACK reveals that just 15 percent of all new drug development is taking place in Asia-Pacific region, including China, despite the largest global growth potential of the region.

This situation is not expected to change significantly in the near future for obvious reasons. The head start that the western world and Japan enjoy in this space of the global pharmaceutical industry would continue to benefit those countries for some more time.

Some points to ponder:

  • It is essential to have balanced laws and policies, offering equitable advantage for innovation to all stakeholders, including patients.
  • Trade policy is another important ingredient, any imbalance of which can either reinforce or retard R&D efforts.
  • Empirical evidence across the globe has demonstrated that a well-balanced patent regime would encourage the inflow of technology, stimulate R&D, benefit both the national and the global pharmaceutical sectors and most importantly improve the healthcare system, in the long run.
  • The Government, academia, scientific fraternity and the pharmaceutical Industry need to get engaged in various relevant Public Private Partnership (PPP) arrangements for R&D to ensure wider access to newer and better medicines in the country, providing much needed stimulus to the public health interest of the nation.

Conclusion:

R&D initiatives, though very important for most of the industries, are the lifeblood for the pharmaceutical sector, across the globe, to meet the unmet needs of the patients. Thus, quite rightly, the pharmaceutical Industry is considered to be the ‘lifeline’ for any nation in the battle against diseases of all types.

While the common man expects newer and better medicines at affordable prices, the pharmaceutical industry has to battle with burgeoning R&D costs, high risks and increasingly long period of time to take a drug from the ‘mind to market’, mainly due to stringent regulatory requirements. There is an urgent need to strike a right balance between the two.

In this context, it is indeed a proud moment for India, when with the launch of its home grown new products, Synriam of Ranbaxy and Lipaglyn of Zydus Cadilla or Rotavac Vaccine of Bharat Biotech translate a common man’s dream of affordable new medicines into reality and set examples for others to emulate.

Thus, just within seven years from the beginning of the new product patent regime in India, stories like Synriam, Lipaglyn, Rotavac or the R&D pipeline of over 50 NCEs/NMEs prompt resurfacing the key unavoidable query yet again:

Has Indian pharma started catching-up with the process of new drug discovery, after decades of hibernation, to move up the industry ‘Value Chain’?

By: Tapan J. Ray

Disclaimer: The views/opinions expressed in this article are entirely my own, written in my individual and personal capacity. I do not represent any other person or organization for this opinion.

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