Glenmark Pharmaceuticals & Suven Life Sciences: The new face of the innovating ‘Indian’ pharma industry?

The last few years have been a period of uneasy courtship between the Indian and foreign pharmaceutical industries. In this period we’ve witnessed some mega acquisitions, rumours of mega acquisitions and rumours of wannabe mega acquisitions. The driving force behind all these acquisitions, rumoured or actual, is the desperate need for innovator MNCs to generate additional revenues by tapping the ever-increasing market for generics. This ‘Ardhanarishwar’ business model has been covered by SpicyIP over here. This is not to say that foreign generic manufacturers themsleves have not been making acquisitions in the Indian market.

However, admist all the acquisitions and the rumours, its refreshing to hear that there are atleast a couple of Indian pharmaceutical companies out there who still have their mojo intact i.e. not only are they are not on a lookout for a cosy acquisition deal but on the contrary they’ve thrown themsleves into a high-risk/high-gain R&D. Two such companies that have been in the news of late are Glenmark and Suven.

A couple of weeks ago Forbes carried an excellent article on Glenmark’s future business model. Glenmark reportedly has 7 of its 13 pipeline compounds in various stages of clinical trials. These compounds are intended to target tough-to-treat asthma, diabetes, multiple sclerosis and arthritis, among other diseases. Although Glenmark can take substantial comfort in the fact that its generics business provide an adequate stream of revenue, its business strategy is to reduce atleast part of its risk by signing on a development partner once the lead compounds have been identified. In one such deal Glenmark gave away, for $ 190 million US dollars, the licensing and marketing rights for the U.S., Europe and Japan regions to Forest Laboratories while keeping for itself the rights to the emerging markets especially India. Glenmark’s CEO was quoted by Forbes as saying: “We’ve always believed that the real growth is in emerging markets.” The deal with Forest Laboratories, though commendable, ran into rough weather when both parties announced just two days ago that their drug failed tests. A setback which is normal in the risky business of discovery new cures.

For its part Suven Life Sciences, a Hyderabad based biopharmaceutical company specializing in central nervous disorders, has secured for itself patents in nine countries, including India, for a New Chemical Entity (NCE) (SUVN-502) that may be useful in treating Alzheimers disease. This achievement is indeed commendable for a company the size of Suven especially since it is quite rare for even the the biggest of pharma companies to discover a new chemical entity these days and that too for a difficult to treat disease like Alzheimers. Of course getting a patent is only half the story, the real question is are the patents being translated into cold, hard cash? Suven’s CEO has claimed that they are in talks with atleast 4 global companies to licence out the patent. In addition Eli Lilly has entered into a discovery development agreement with Suven Life Sciences for research into Central Nervous Disorders, which is Suven’s specialization.

Clearly Indian pharma, especially the small to mid-level companies, are more than capable of taking the risk and plunging themselves into high risk R&D work. In fact some would say that these companies are hope for the entire world epsecially since big pharma has simply become too big to innovate efficiently. Glenmark and Suven are still relatively small, youthful and ambitious. They are also dynamic, with a hands on approach and free of the bureucratic machinations that so often bog down large companies in carrying out R&D efficiently. All of this means they are in a position to innovate on new cures. Given the enormous wage differences between Indian and West it is but obvious that Indian companies can do cutting edge research for a fraction of what it may have cost in the West especially since India has a lot of brainy people.

The most important point however is Glenn Saldana’s statement “We’ve always believed that the real growth is in emerging markets.” Clearly markets like India matter to these companies. Enough of a reason to protect Indian patents in India?

Prashant Reddy

Prashant Reddy

T. Prashant Reddy graduated from the National Law School of India University, Bangalore, with a B.A.LLB (Hons.) degree in 2008. He later graduated with a LLM degree (Law, Science & Technology) from the Stanford Law School in 2013. Prashant has worked with law firms in Delhi and in academia in India and Singapore. He is also co-author of the book Create, Copy, Disrupt: India's Intellectual Property Dilemmas (OUP).

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