The COVID-19 pandemic has shown that if the pharmaceutical industry and government work together, the drug discovery and development of therapies can be accelerated, G V Prasad, co-chairman and Managing Director of Dr. Reddy's Laboratories said on Wednesday. He was speaking during an exclusive conversation with Siddharth Zarabi, Managing Editor, Business Today TV at ongoing World Economic Forum (WEF) meeting at Davos.
Prasad talked about lessons that the pandemic has taught the pharmaceutical industry and his company. He said that the first lesson is that there needs to be a great degree of collaboration between the regulators, the governments, industry, and the society.
“And if together, we can work we can accelerate the development of therapies, improve the health of our people in a much faster way. Another lesson is that the overall companies can be much more productive. If we focus on the very essence of what we are doing, and during COVID All the superficial activities fell off and we just focused on the essential one once and through that you can improve productivity tremendously,” added Prasad.
Discussing about the fast COVID-19 vaccine development, Prasad highlighted that the emergency actually helped the pharma industry take some risks. “But in the long term, there are ways we can adopt some of these lessons to accelerate the value chain and accelerate innovation,” he said.
He also said that typically, a vaccine development takes years. “From the time the genome of the virus was published, within a year, less than a year, we got the first vaccine. Thanks to the new technology of mRNA where the body itself codes, the code is inserted into your cells, and the cells produce the virus on a replica of the virus and your body's started developing the immunity to it. This happened in a year. This is unprecedented."
“We all responded and took the tools at our disposal and did this so in mRNA and perhaps a few other technologies by technologies now set for the mainstream for accelerated development rollout of all the diseases that don't have a solution. I can't say of all diseases, but for many diseases, I think mRNA works especially in areas like cancer to get the drug to the target or to prime your immune system to kill the cancer cells,” he said.
He further said that there are many other applications which will be accelerated by the science that has developed. But I mean, it was an interesting time in our history that biology was ready for the main stage and it happened.
Highlighting the inequality in terms of healthcare and access to medicines, Prasad said that while people celebrate the success of companies, the reality is that millions and millions of Indians don't even get a simple machine.
“This is a major problem for our country. But while we have made great progress on the technology front of the unicorns on entrepreneurship or growth, our social indicators speak otherwise and we as a company country, as a government, as society as people, we need to improve the health of our citizens,” he stressed.
Prasad approved of usage of technology and digital health to improve health outcomes of the country. “We need to improve primary health, access to primary health, we have some good systems like the ASHA healthcare worker, the primary healthcare backbone, we must build on that. We must expand that system. We could use technology like digital technology through the reach of that,” said Prasad.
“Government is doing some wonderful things like digital health, like the digital health IT and creating the platform system. I think we need to accelerate those. We should measure the outcomes more than the inputs and ensure that the health of our citizens has improved. We have issues on our lifespan, infant mortality, nutrition, some infectious diseases like TB are still there,” he said.
The Dr Reddy's MD also expressed happiness that the government has recognized that health is an important topic for the governments and they own the health of the citizens today.
“And if they can act on it, do what they're doing in a much more intensive way and give greater allocation of resources to help. I think we will improve. Maybe it'll take some time because, changes like this cannot happen overnight. But the system is there, the skeleton is there and be able to build on it orally technology on it, and improve access,” he said.
Moreover, talking about the geo-political situation in Russia and Ukraine, Prasad said that for Dr Reddy’s, Russia is still a significant market and will remain so it will remain so it's around nine 10% of its revenue. “We also have a business in Ukraine and we serve the citizens of Ukraine. We continue to serve them now. We are not in a political game. We are primarily committed to our patients,” he said.
“People on a therapy have to continue to be on a therapy and that's why availability of drugs is important. And we will step in where it is acquired and we will serve patients wherever they are and how is the overall international market space evolving,” he added.
Prasad further said that America is the largest market, but that market has significant pricing pressure and hence Dr Reddy’s is trying to allocate capital for the other markets, the branded markets.
“India of course, there is a major focus area for us we also started acquiring businesses in India. And then after that it's a range of emerging markets including Russia, South America, for Eastern Middle East, the clutch of various other countries. We also have ingredients business which we supply worldwide,” said Prasad.
Prasad said that Dr Reddy’s hasn’t seen any difficulties in the Ukraine because food and medicine fall into that category in the embargo category and there is no spill over given the changing geopolitical situation.
Due to this scenario, Prasad said that input costs have risen and freight costs have gone up. “Overall, we're able to the material sourcing internationally. China is a significant source but it's about eight to 9% of our sourcing revenue sourcing cost, and it's been stable. We have not had any challenges,” he said.
Talking about the economy of health and increasing globalisation, Prasad also mentioned that one starts putting barriers in countries for trade, it will become more expensive for citizens, adding that in the end, the direction will be to globalize.
On expansion pans, Prasad that Dr Reddy’s is continuing to grow its core businesses of active ingredients and biosimilars. “We're going to build our biological biosimilars business and also new areas like drug discovery based in oncology, and other innovations like digital health and other things that we are small experiments now, but we hope will become meaningful in the long term,” he said.
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