Business Today

Advinus - Doctor at home

After working for two decades with big Pharma colossus Bristol Myers-Squib, Rashmi Bharbaiya returned to India four years ago to pursue his dreams of making the country a hot spot for drug discovery.

     Print Edition: January 27, 2008

Dr Rashmi Bharbaiya
Dr R. Bharbaiya
After working for two decades with big Pharma colossus Bristol Myers-Squib, Rashmi Bharbaiya returned to India four years ago to pursue his dreams of making the country a hot spot for drug discovery.

His first port of call was Ranbaxy, where he headed R&D and spent a couple of years refining the company’s operations and discovery pipeline.

Then when D.S. Brar, then the firm’s CEO and MD quit, Bharbaiya followed him out of the exit door and decided to set up his own venture, focussing exclusively on drug discovery, without any of the distractions of manufacturing and marketing active pharma ingredients (APIs).

Like many of his peers in pharma and other industries, he took the route of building a scalable business plan and shopped for much-needed VC investment to support his initiative.

Founder, CEO & MD: Dr Rashmi Bharbaiya

NCES in the pipeline: 3

Therapeutic areas of focus: Diabetes, hypertension, lipid disorders and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease

Progress made: All three NCEs in pre-clinical trials

Investments so far in NCE research: Rs 200 crore

Annual investment in R&D: N.A.

Likely target date for new drug launch: N.A. (two-three compounds to go into development in 2008)

CEO-speak: “It is extremely expensive and time-consuming to undertake drug discovery and the success rates are very low”
However, on a cold evening in the town of Interlagos in Switzerland, Bharbaiya got an unusual call from the Tatas, who were interested in taking a controlling stake in his company, Advinus Therapeutics. “They initially wanted to build a pharma services organisation, but I convinced them about the viability of the venture,” he says.

From those early days, Advinus has today grown into a 350-person outfit that focuses on drug discovery, but also mitigates much of the risk from this business with a services arm, which provides low-cost, high-quality services to multinational pharma giants.

“It is extremely expensive and time-consuming to undertake drug discovery and development and the success rates are very low. Ninety per cent of the molecules we consider initially will fail and then it will take 3-5 years with successful ones to hit the market,” Bharbaiya says.

He estimates that companies such as Advinus could save large multinationals 60 per cent in cost (it costs around $1 billion to bring a potential drug to proof of concept) and aside from the obvious cost leverage, the saving could be used to put multiple development programmes in place to try and increase the likelihood of success of multiple molecules.

“We have generated some milestone payments before time. We focus on specific high-potential illnesses such as diabetes, hypertension, lipid disorders and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease,” says Bharbaiya.

— Rahul Sachitanand

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