Business Today

Biocon's new vistas

After changing its focus from enzymes to biopharma, India's best-known biotech company wants to transform itself into a truly global company.

Rahul Sachitana | Print Edition: September 20, 2009

For almost the whole of July and August, Biocon Founder Kiran Mazumdar-Shaw has been on a trip— many trips, actually—racking up frequent-flier miles across the US and Europe to meet customers, partners and regulators. The trigger: Biocon's landmark deal signed June 29 with US generics major Mylan Inc.

The Mylan deal is a key component of her plan to turn India's best-known biotech firm into a global player, a research-based powerhouse turning out innovative drugs and biosimilars (the generics of the biotech world) and give Biocon a global footprint.

"I want Biocon to be a leading innovator from India," she said, back home after the last flight. In fact, Mazumdar-Shaw, who became India's richest woman when Biocon listed in 2004, has her eyes set on a place among the world's top 10 biotech firms.

What are biosimilars and why are pharma players rushing to make them?
Unlike generics, biosimilars are similar but not identical to the originals.
Biosimilars offer more targetted treatment of diseases.
Of the 22 drugs approved in 2007 by the USFDA, 13 were biosimilars.
Players such as Teva and Sandoz are stepping up their investments in biosimilars.
Biosimilars offer bigger production challenges and safety issues, so regulators are tough.

Today, Biocon, which began as an enzymes maker, gets over 80 per cent of its revenues from traditional generics and biosimilars. According to market researcher Frost & Sullivan, biosimilars, which are "similar" to biopharmaceuticals but not the exact thing, could generate sales of around $16.4 billion (Rs 78,720 crore) globally by 2011, and account for 10-15 per cent of the overall pharma market.

With traditional generics under price pressures, Biocon figured it was time to get into innovations to combat cancer, arthritis, diabetes and Alzheimer's disease.

Mazumdar-Shaw wants Biocon to go places—first Russia, West Asia and parts of Europe, and then the bumper US market.

Bonding with the best...
Realising that it's a tough and expensive job getting biosimilars past regulators in the lucrative western markets, last year she acquired Germany's AxiCorp GmbH, a major importer. And this June's deal with Mylan will help her enter the US. "As a standalone Indian company, we don't understand many nuances of entering these markets," Mazumdar-Shaw says. "Mylan brings its generics clout and people with experience of entering and launching biosimilars in new markets."

Spotting opportunities is not new for Mazumdar-Shaw: Two years ago, she sold the original business of enzymes and turned to biopharma. Then followed a deal with US-based Abraxis BioScience Inc. to market a biotech drug for breast cancer in South and West Asia. Biocon also set up a venture with Abu Dhabi-based Neopharma to tap West Asia. Says Mazumdar-Shaw: "… as that market (enzymes) got commoditised we made a clean break from it and got into branded formulations and biosimilars. Now these biosimilars will support and fund a lot of our innovation initiatives."

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