Genesis of Bharat Biotech
I was in the US where I was working as a faculty at Medical University of South California (U.S). My mother and wife wanted me to come back to India. I still remember my mother convincing me by telling, "Finally, you have nine inches of stomach to feed. No matter how much you earn, you cannot eat more than this capacity. I assure you, I will not let you starve for a single day; come back to India, do whatever you like to do, take all the risks possible." That is how they got me back to India.
I then had the options of either doing a job or do something of my own. I tried doing a job; but soon enough found out that the company was setup for reasons that were against my principle – so I quit the job. My background back then was yeast molecular biology. When I just started Bharat Biotech, we had a clear focus that we have to address the problems of this continent and work on areas neglected by multinational companies. We always believed our competitors are the infectious diseases, not any company or country.
| Dr Krishna M Ella
Scientist to an entrepreneur – the difficulties faced?
I think I’m one of the first scientists to become an entrepreneur. When a scientist becomes an entrepreneur, he suddenly makes three-four enemies. First enemy is the academicians, who always feel that their innovations and ideas should be above yours. The second is the Financial Institutions. And if you are US returned, they think that you have lost a job there. And then there are the people in regulatory body generally think that scientists cannot do business after coming back from the States.
What part of the business do you spend most of your time on?
I just practice control where my strength is - biological knowledge. I spend 90 percent of time R&D and problem solving. Every day I get one idea and I can’t sleep without exploring those ideas; that’s my weakness. The second priority is product development. I always ask people not to follow the multinational companies. If somebody is producing by ‘x’ method, do not limit your mind by blindly following the ‘x’ method. Being a new company we could always take high risk & we can always develop alternatives, better strategies, more efficient, and more innovative products. As for day to day issues and business operations, I don’t get into that. I have people for that.
What is the overall business outlook in the biotech space in today’s condition?
Like in every other space, in today’s condition, the fellow who wants and deserves funding doesn’t get money while the fellow who doesn’t deserve gets the money. However, when it comes to Department of Biotechnology, you should appreciate Dr Bhan. He has tremendously shifted the focus from academic thinking to also thinking about it as a part of the industry. Earlier all the academic institutes thought research is their domain and their focus, and not of industries’ interest.
Today I think Dr Paul has shifted the game. Both eyes are important in this country - private sector and public sector. That brings now pressure to the industry to bring up the research level / capability to highest standard. For people like us, being honest, our competitions are not people from institutes like IIT. They are not our competitors because for me there are some focused areas which academies institutes cannot do research upon. They just can’t do it.
How easy or difficult is it to bring out products in an ecosystem that involves the government, academicians, researchers, etc?
It is difficult. Earlier we had only one drug control department and only two companies, Bharat Biotech and Shanta Biotech, operating in this space. This single window soon became multi windows and in the process of the transformation, we created more windows. After drug controller came in 3-4 committees, that started controlling bio-technology which was not required. Everybody wants power, and wants to control and regulate which is not good. Rather than that they should look at it holistically - what is right for the country and what eco system is right for the country. That intellectual debate is not happening. We are a multi product company now. Delays in things are ok since we can take them back. But my worry is if a new entrepreneur is starting, he is going to suffer. That is what bothers me.
What is the level of patience that is required in getting the ROI?
I would say if your blood pressure does not up after two years, it would mean that you are in trouble. Your blood pressure will indicate whether you are going to succeed or not. If it goes up it means you are getting paranoid and you are trying to make it happen. That’s patience. You need to have high patience and you have to have increased blood pressure to achieve things.
Is there a gap between what is being done in the country and what should be done?
The model we want to follow in biotechnology is a big gap. If we follow the biogeneric model, then I think we will be following the footsteps of the generic model of pharma. Soon enough, companies are going to be sick in this country and companies will be acquired. Today a lot of pharma companies are facing the problem of being in a space where companies are killing each other through the predatory prices and other ways. Besides this, in a biogeneric model, we have competition from China, Argentina, Korea, Cuba and a lot of countries who are ahead of us in this model. Biogeneric model will be wiped out after 5 years.
There’s a model where many countries believe in exporting to U.S. & European markets. For them India is not at all important. Exporting level is zero just like pharma model. For me exporting to U.S. & Europe is not important. For me, what’s important is, can I solve the problem of this continent? For instance, 2 lakh children die in this country every year because of Rotavirus, as compared to a H1N1 which was the cause of the death of about 1000 people. In today’s world, where couples prefer to have a single child, this can be very disturbing. Do any political parties or the media make a fuss about this? We got into Rotavirus Vaccine Programme when the product was being sold from the U.S. market. The reason I got into it; I said this is the problem of this continent and not a U.S. problem. Two lakh children is a big number. If I can achieve something to solve this and save about 2 lakh lives per year, I’ve achieved my mission as being the citizen of this country.
The solution is actually a question: Can Indian companies make innovative molecules that can be launched globally? I think we can. If you want to stand out finally, let us tighten the belt and do something in this regards.
Your biggest success
I think the success was the when we produced Hepatitis B vaccine. The vaccine which was then sold at Rs. 800 a dose, today is not even for Rs. 20 a dose. It’s just because of competition & innovation that the price has gone down. And I think the competition brings innovation also. The second important thing we did was the Rotavirus Vaccine Programme. We are now bringing the global attention to the Foundation. It is for the first time that an Indian company is bringing the vaccine to phase three trials.
The next big thing in the biotech space
The biogeneric manufacturers will become contract manufacturers & contract manufacturers will kill all innovation. No contract manufacturing has become innovative anywhere in the world. On the other hand, our new generation entrepreneur will take risks and innovate - for them sustainability is going to be a big task; and whoever can sustain, will win the major race. So these two things will happen in parallel in the future of this biotechnology of this country.
One thing that aspiring entrepreneurs should avoid…
You are being foolish, if you’re looking at this segment for short term revenue. Never enter into this line of business thinking that you are going to make money in less than 10 years.
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