BioZeen, Fostering Excellence
Dr Anil Paul Kariath, Founder Director & Cherian Philip, Co-founder
BioZeen, a division of Bangalore Biotech Labs, is a specialized institution, which was started with a vision to bridge the gap between the industry and academia by understanding the needs of the industry and potential of educational institutes. Through its programs and facilities, BioZeen envisages creating a base for offering practical training in the field of industrial biotechnology among professionals and students.
Please elaborate on BioZeen.
We are primarily a full vertical in bioprocess engineering. India has a lot of qualified people but these people are not qualified enough to be deployed on a global basis. There is a wide gap between academics and industry. We backward integrated ourselves and today we're both a training center as well as a consultancy. We take in fresh graduates from the universities and academic institutions and then train them to be at par with global standards. We can convert them into quality engineers and process people who could be operating out of India and still supporting the US, which is the biggest biotech market in the world. Another objective is to help our customers worldwide with doing a lot of work on established processes to improve their processes. We will not get into the drug discovery research model at all. For one, it does not fit the Indian scenario nor is there a climate of innovation in this country. Our long-term idea is, of course, becoming one of the best consulting companies worldwide in this particular area.
What are the opportunities you intend to leverage?
Biopharma is the largest segment in the biotech economy of India. Unfortunately there is no curriculum where a student can get educated and come into the industry. There's either pure biotechnology or pharma. There's nothing called biopharma in the educational curriculum. What we are trying to do is take in students of pharma and biotechnology and introduce them to biopharma as a course and then train them on the various aspects of biopharma drug manufacturing and testing, including regulatory affairs and other issues. So that's the space we are trying to fill for the industry, which needs biopharmacists but the kind of people available are biotechnologists and pharmacists. When we approached the industry on this, they have been very positive. Every company has now decided to take in people from any sector, train them in the biopharma processes and then absorb them. Right now we are training almost 160 people for Reliance Life Sciences.
What makes BioZeen different?
Instead of approaching a biopharma theoretical angle of training, we've created a biopharma facility here which is cGMP compliant. And then we are training the people in a real life situation. They not only see but also work on equipment in the same way as they would do in a company, of course on a pilot scale. They are not only getting trained in biopharma processes but they are also learning the discipline that goes around it. People entering the industry lack soft skills and the knowledge of regulatory affairs matters that go along with drug manufacturing. We are like the IIMs/IITs for biotechnology in a way, from an operational level, not from a research perspective. We are primarily in the process area and we cover practically every aspect of the industry.
Any innovative endeavors?
We plan to offer BOT model (build, operate and transfer) for bioprocess training centers. We not only want to do it here but want to do it internationally. We're working on it. We have the experience of having built up, created the curriculum and created the knowledge level. We are in the process of talking to several organizations including central organizations where we could take up such a project, where we design the training centre, the curriculum, design the whole process and run it for them and train people and hand it over to them. That's again unique. For the first time, nobody has gone through the experience even worldwide.
Navya Biologicals, Enterprising Spirit
Navya Biologicals, Bangalore
Dr KR Rajyashri and Vinay Konaje, Founders
What happens when two enterprising individuals, one with a scientific bent of bind and the other with a business acumen, come together. A scientific enterprise takes birth. And that's precisely what happened when Dr KR Rajyashri and Vinay Konaje, who were colleagues at Avesthagen, decided to move out of the company in April 2006 to start something on their own. Their dream company, Navya Biologicals, was registered in the first week of June this year during Bangalore Bio 2006, and this perhaps is the youngest company in BioSpectrum's list of biotech start-ups.
Dr Rajyashri had always wanted to study science. She was in her Std 11 in a Hyderabad-based school when she was highly inspired by her science teacher, Appukuttan, who introduced his students to genetic engineering, though it was not part of the syllabus. And thus began her tryst with biotechnology.
Reminisces Rajyashri, "Twenty years ago, genetic engineering was not such a well learned subject. He gave us a book, Cloning of the Man and started telling us about cloning, the possibility of cloning in human beings and animals. We were a group of 11 students and most of us were technology oriented and decided to do biotechnology while the rest were looking at other courses such as engineering and medicine."
Armed with a BSc degree in Genetics, Zoology and Chemistry, she went on to do her MSc in Biochemistry and then PhD in Molecular Biology from the Center for Cellular and Molecular Biology, Hyderabad, where she worked closely with Dr Lalji Singh, who at that point in time was working on genes involved in sex determination.
Rajyashri had a small stint at the ICGEB, New Delhi, as a research scientist before she went on to do her post doctoral studies at the UK-based John Innes Center on a Rockfeller Biotechnology career fellowship.
As director of research at Bangalore-based Avesthagen, Rajyashri used to head a team of over 30 personnel. She was responsible for the development and execution of the microbial therapeutic programs, pathway engineering programs (GoI-funded NMITLI program) at Avesthagen. She was also responsible for the development and execution of diagnostic product development programs with foreign companies, institutes.
Vinay Konaje, basically a chemical engineer from Bangalore University, has worked with the KK Birla Group of companies for six years in process engineering and business development. As vice president of business development at Avesthagen, Konaje was responsible for the growth of the pharmaceutical business unit of the company.
When did the idea of Navya Biologicals take shape?
For a very long time we had been thinking about this venture and felt this was the right time when opportunities are aplenty in biotechnology. We had acquired the right background and we thought we had the energy, interest and persistence to start something on our own.
We believe India itself is a great market for molecular biology and does have a big requirement in healthcare for services and products. It was a big leap of fate...moving out of a job to start something on our own. Initially we plan to start with services and then move on to products.
What is your perception of the business in biotechnology?
The risks involved in starting a business in biotechnology are higher when compared to the IT sector or any other sector for that matter. So family support is very essential, without which it becomes very difficult to move ahead. Fortunately both our families have been very supportive. The second thing is persistence. Biotech is about persistence. The aura and hype attached to the biotech industry is very high and the expectations of people are also much beyond what could be done. We have to understand that biotech is a regulated industry. Once the hype fades away, it is only then we will see the real, hard core companies coming up.
A novel trend in biotechnology we have noticed is that it is no longer the affluent people who are doing business in biotechnology. Lately people hailing from middle-class families are venturing into starting their own companies and they are willing to take the risks. Never before has one witnessed this kind of entrepreneurship in biotechnology.
How do you see the growth potential of the industry?
We see an overall growth of 20-30 percent for the industry for the coming year and India getting on to the patent bandwagon does provide some sort of impetus. And the Indian population does need biotech products. Somewhere, we need to strike a balance between the high cost of R&D and affordability in order to cater to the country's requirement. n
Boston Biologicals, Focused on Health Care
Boston Biologicals, Bangalore
Prof. S Krishnaswamy, CMD
Basically a veterinarian by qualification, Prof. S Krishnaswamy was into teaching for 20 years. He has been a Professor of Microbiology at the Bangalore Veterinary College and Tirupati Veterinary College. Associated with the industry for the last 21 years now, Prof. Krishnaswamy kicked off his professional career with Alvad, a Madras-based veterinary pharmaceutical company, where he served from 1985 to 1992 as the R&D director. His next stint was with Kegg Farm (the parent company of Indovax) where he served in the capacity of executive director for a period of two years. Moving back home in Bangalore, from 1994 to 1997, Prof Krishnaswamy was the R&D advisor to Vetcare, a leading animal health and nutrition company. It was then that he realized the potential for biotech products in veterinary applications and this resulted in the genesis of Animal Biotech.
Incidentally Animal Biotech is the first veterinary company to get VC funding in India and SIDBI funded the company. A debt-free company today, it is involved in the R&D in animal feed additives like probiotics and enzymes. It also offers consultancy in biopharmaceuticals, vaccines and food related biotechnology. Animal Biotech is also pursuing its research and scale-up efforts of diagnostic kits. While Prof Krishnaswamy handles product development and scaling up, S Shivashankar, the joint managing director of Animal Biotech, who is also a co-investor in the company, takes care of the production. Animal Biotech's marketing organization, ABT Corporation is headed by Amareshwar Rao.
In 2005, the company launched Boston Biologicals, a separate entity focused on human health. Boston Biologicals is led by Dr Manivasakam. Basically a graduate in agriculture, Dr Manivasakam holds a doctorate degree in Molecular Biology from a Canadian university and has done his post doctoral work in Harvard Medical School. He is one of the NRI investors in Boston Biologicals and he has been in the pharmaceutical industry in the US for over 15 years now. The chairman of the company's advisory committee is
Prof. G Padmanabhan and the advisors are Dr MD Nair and Dr Paranjyothi.
How did Boston Biologicals take birth?
Boston Biologicals is practically an offshoot of Animal Biotech at the request of a few NRIs. They wanted an opportunity to invest money in India, particularly in biotech products and not conventional biopharmaceutical products. A brain storming session with Dr Manivasakam during my visit to Boston in 2003 gave birth to Boston Biologicals eventually in 2005. He was very keen on investing in India but at the same time he was not in a position to relocate to the country. This is where he sought my help and thus Boston Biologicals was launched.
What is Boston Biologicals into and how much money has been invested so far?
We have so far invested about Rs 6 lakh and the authorized capital is Rs 50 lakh.
We are into two major areas at Boston Biologicals-one is to develop and produce both monoclonal and polyclonal therapeutic antibodies and the other is nutraceuticals.
We have already signed an agreement with the biochemistry department of the IISc for development of monoclonal antibodies and Prof. Anjali Karande is handling this. We are working on two organisms-Group A Streptococci (causes sore throat and rheumatic fever) and Helicobacter pylori (causes gastric ulcers). This is one area of our research and it will extend to other areas of monoclonal antibodies for various other conditions.
We have already started working on nutraceuticals and we have got about five products developed. We are getting it outsourced from a local manufacturer. One product is for muscle building and another is a sleep inducer. It is basically a metabolic product which checks insomnia or sleeplessness. We also have an ointment and tablet for arthritis. And we are in the process of getting three health drinks developed. This is on a special enquiry from a US-based person, Rustomjee Masalawala of Indian origin, who has a tie-up with a social community medicine project in Rajasthan in collaboration with BITS Pilani. The first product is an energy booster, the second one is an anti-oxidant and the third one is an appetite controller.
What are your future plans for Boston Biologicals?
We plan to enter the field of DNA vaccines in poultry and human diseases. We also plan take up contract research in the area of DNA constructs and we have already been approached by the University of Illinois and Yale University, Connecticut.
One of my students, Suryaprakash Rao Sambhara, who is in Center for Disease Control (CDC) Atlanta, in collaboration with the Purdue University, has developed a recombinant bird flu vaccine, which has been reported in the Lancet and other journals. He has approached us for marketing and we intend to market it in South East Asian countries. This will take quite a while as the vaccine is still under FDA clearance in the US.
RxMD India, Knowledge Process Services Focus
RxMD India, Chennai
Dr Vis Niranjan, President
RxMD India, a knowledge process outsourcing (KPO) company, mainly in the pharma domain, has been instrumental in bringing several innovative compounds to market in the disease areas of Hepatitis B, Hepatitis C, HIV, influenza, erectile dysfunction and others. It offers consultancy and an array of knowledge outsourcing services in the area of new drug development. Currently, with a strength of 10 professionals, it is on an impressive growth trajectory, having recently bagged contracts to manage data from clinical studies being conducted by North American pharma companies and poised to partner some of them in comprehensive drug development activities. Since January 2006, RxMD has won contracts valued at Rs 2.87 crore. These contracts range for KPO including value-added clinical data management, drug safety, medical writing and SAS programming. RxMD's Indian operations has gathered momentum in the recent months and the company expects to grow by at least 25 percent annually over the next few years.
The man behind this new venture in KPO business is Dr Vis Niranjan, a graduate in medicine from the University of Bombay. He received postdoctoral training in molecular biology (Biotechnology) at Howard Hughes Medical Institute at the University of Texas, Southwestern Medical Center in Dallas, Texas, USA. A US Board certified physician,
Dr Niranjan has held important positions in reputed hospitals in the US and has extensive experience in new drug development.
What made you venture into bioservices when there are already many players?
In the year 2000, I relocated to India from the US for largely personal reasons. Fortuitously, my return coincided with the IT boom, which was impacting, among other industries, the pharma industry. India was beginning to be looked on as a potentially favorable destination for drug development activities. I realized here was an opportunity to set up a company providing specialized knowledge process services. While there were indeed other players, most of them were in the business of offering process expertise rather than domain based expertise, which is RxMD's strength.
What were the hurdles you initially faced while starting this company?
There were no major hurdles as such. We began in a small way. And since we were primarily offering services, there were no huge expenses on infrastructure and the like. Governmental regulations too were relatively simple. Currently RxMD is on an impressive growth trajectory.
What are the strategies you have adopted to be different from the other players?
As I said, RxMD offers knowledge process services. We are probably the only company in India that does so. Our unique skill set is what distinguishes us from other players offering drug development related services.
What are the opportunities you intend to leverage?
Global pharmas are looking to outsource high-end services to India. Indian companies too, with the change in patent laws, have been compelled to think of discovering new drugs themselves rather than taking the generic drug route. These are opportunities for RxMD to offer value-added, domain-expertise based services.
What is your advice to new entrepreneurs?
Be prepared to be held to rigorous standards. Nothing short of compliance with the highest benchmarks, GXP (Internationally accepted Good Practices) will suffice. In order to do this, it is important that employees are well trained in the basic sciences, pharmacokinetics and translational medicine (the discipline of translating basic research into new drugs)/pharmaceutical clinical R&D.
Ace Biomed, Quality Assurance
Ace Biomed, Mumbai
Dr Mary Francis, CEO
Ace Biomed Pvt Ltd is a private and independent CRO which started its operation in 2004 from Mumbai to provide a broad range of clinical research services like bioavailibility (BA) and bioequivalence (BE) studies in compliance with GCP and GLP and other applicable guidelines and regulations. It has the support and backing of Geo Chem Group of Companies, an international independent inspection, testing and certification company. Supported by trained research personnel, Ace Biomed has a 52-bed clinical facility to do BA/BE studies. It has already completed three pilot studies for US FDA submission and four pivotal studies for the UK submission.
Ace Biomed, from its conceptualization to its present day functioning, is the brainchild of Dr Mary Francis who has held a variety of positions at the Therapeutic Drug Monitoring Laboratory, including that as assistant director, technical manager, senior research scientist and analyst. She has used her expertise and her experience in carefully setting up Ace Biomed, to the extent that it started functioning to its full potential within a span of one year. In her long career, she has successfully completed more than 500 BE studies of both nature, i.e. pilots and pivotal studies for all major submissions.
What made you venture into the field of bioservices when there are already many players?
Bioservices is not a new field for us as Geo Chem Laboratories. Our parent company has been in testing and calibration of various things like metals and food products chemicals. This includes testing of drugs and pharmaceuticals to a large extent. Hence bioservices was an extension of the services that Geo Chem provides to its clients. Secondly, no doubt there are plenty of players in this industry, but these players are concentrating more on the domestic front. There are very few companies which actually cater to the regulated market and who are in a position to provide quality work. One more reason to start the faction is that we wanted to prove that when it comes to quality and economics, Indian companies can always fare better and have the capabilities to prove themselves in regulated industries.
What were the hurdles you faced while starting this venture?
Setting up a CRO company demands huge investments and sustaining power in the initials stages. I guess in today's market there isn't much importance given to soliciting finances, as there are various institutes with ready cash. Yes, human resources is a major hurdle. There are various reasons for that. To start with, the world has slowly but surely realized the immense potential India holds when it comes to providing bioservices. The Indian bioservices industry is definitely growing by leaps and bounds but there is a dearth of sincere, skilled and experienced manpower in this industry. The trend has changed immensely when it comes to retaining manpower and this factor takes the largest toll in smooth operations of the company. If one does follow the laid down ground rules of this industry, then there are absolutely no legal or policy issues.
What are the strategies you have adopted to be different from other companies?
It is the most common yet the trickiest question! As a matter of fact our corporate punch line is "An Independent CRO...with a difference!" We bank totally upon extreme professional approach towards our clients. We believe in complete transparency of projects and that we welcome clients to come and inspect our facility at any given point of time, so as to assure them about the transparency and our working culture. The technical knowledge of the employees of Ace Biomed are constantly upgraded so that the benefit of the same can be utilized for best quality results.
Though we employ the latest technology in computers and automations, we never abandon our personal commitment to the customer.
What are the opportunities you intend to leverage?
Currently, we are concentrating on services like BA/BE studies and analytical projects. We are looking forward to entering the clinical trials segment and also data management as an extension to our present range of services. We are preparing the groundwork for the same because as mentioned earlier, we believe in doing our homework thoroughly before jumping into anything. The ultimate aim of any entrepreneur would be to see his/her company rank among the top and gain respect for the efficiency and reliability of the company. We strive to work towards that not-so-distant goal.
Lifecare Innovations, Medical Biotech Thrust
Lifecare Innovations, Gurgaon
Dr Jitendra Verma, MD
Lifecare innovations was set up in May 2000. Yet it finds a place in the segment of new companies as it has not yet been "discovered" by the biotech community. Though a small company in the traditional sense, but rich in intellectual property, Lifecare has been silently spearheading a biotech revolution in the country in the novel drug delivery system (NDDS) arena.
It is a medical biotechnology company involved in the development and commercialization of controlled release pharmaceuticals employing an array of cutting edge technologies, particularly liposome technology and nanotechnology. The company has pioneered the development and commercialization of liposomal pharmaceuticals in the country.
Lifecare Innovations is headed by Dr Jitendra Verma, a scientist-turned entrepreneur, who developed and commercialized the first liposomal product of India in the early 1990s-a liposome agglutination test for the diagnosis of syphilis. He has also produced the first indigenous test for the diagnosis of Hepatitis C consistently demonstrating the commercial success of indigenous technologies. The knack of
Dr Verma in successfully transforming a technology into a product has resulted in a number of patents along with alliances both within and outside India. Another noteworthy feature was the close collaboration with the national laboratories, by virtue of which Dr Verma was able to bring out the products with extremely modest budgets.
The launch of Fungisome-Liposomal Amphotericin B in 2003, the first product of the company aimed at systemic mycosis, has been a matter of national pride for the country and was celebrated on the Technology Day in 2003. Significantly a year later, Fungisome was also exported to the US.
What is your vision for Lifecare Innovations?
We want to nurture Lifecare Innovations into an international pharmaceutical company in the healthcare segment. We are a technology driven company and our focus remains on the development of new medical interventional therapies, which are currently not available. Just earning money is not the objective for us; we are a people's company and will always strive towards making affordable products addressing the Indian needs.
Can you elaborate on the product portfolio of the company?
We have developed three liposomal pharmaceuticals on the NDDS platform till date-Fungisome IV, Fungisome gel and Psorisome gel with collaborative efforts.
Fungisome, which we developed into a commercial product with support from DBT and PATSAR (Program Aimed at Technological Self-Reliance) of the Department of Scientific and Industrial Research (DSIR) was launched in 2003. This is the first liposomal pharmaceutical made in Asia and one of the two liposomal amphotericin B formulations in the world. While, Fungisome gel is the first tropical liposomal amphotericin B nano-drug in the world. Significantly, it has been completely indigenously developed in the country. Both these products are the most effective treatment option for systemic mycosis and leishmaniasis. When compared to the other liposomal amphotericin B infusion, our product has about 15 percent higher therapeutic efficacy, extremely low toxicity and costs just one-tenth in comparison. At present, we are supplying this product within the country, some SAARC nations and are getting one foreign country enquiry every week.
Psorisome gel, which promises a treatment of psoriasis without irritation, is the first liposomal formulation of Dithranol in the world. Its unique and strategic design provides remarkably enhanced therapeutic efficacy with minimal side effects as compared to conventional Dithranol products available commercially.
Now a nanotechnology-based novel drug delivery system for sustained release of anti-TB drugs supported by the DBT and developed in collaboration with PGIMER Chandigarh has advanced to completion of toxicology studies. This patented product of the company is aimed to be the drug of choice to cure and control spread of tuberculosis including MDR TB. The drug is currently awaiting approvals for clinical trials.
In addition, a number of other novel drug delivery systems are under development and about a dozen patents have been filed on Novel Drug Delivery systems.
What is your advice to aspiring entrepreneurs?
If one wants to be creative and do something, then she/he should be on her/his own and not look towards the early safety of a job. Entrepreneurs venturing out should remember that the buildings, machinery and other infrastructure are secondary to the consistency, persistence and commitment of the individual, which matters the most.
VLife, Strong in Computational Research
VLife Sciences Technologies, Pune
Supreet Deshpande, CEO
VLife Sciences Technologies, a privately held company started in 2002, has emerged as a knowledge-based drug discovery company. Started with a small team of four, it currently has a staff strength of 28 (all are in the age group of 30-32 years) with over 50 percent of them having PhDs in different fields of science. By next March, it is expected to increase its strength to 100. VLife has been involved in the area of computational research to drug discovery with its proprietary technologies and providing solutions to pharmaceutical researchers to improve research productivity in different ways.
VLife is the brainchild of Supreet Deshpande, a mechanical engineer, who had prior experience of working with Mahindra & Mahindra, Bajaj Auto and Mahindra British Telecom, and his colleagues, Atul Aslekar and Sachin Pathak (qualified in technologies) and Girish Lakhe (qualified in finance and legal issues). All are the founder directors of VLife.
What made you to become an entrepreneur by starting a company in the bioinformatics space, which is still a small market?
Bioinformatics is often used to depict any computer application in the area of basic sciences. Strictly speaking bioinformatics encompasses the IT applications which allow collection, arrangement, annotation, correlation and searching of biological data generated during and post the Human Genome project. But going a step further, it may include interpretation of such data from the objective at hand.
VLife is not a strict bioinformatics company but a drug discovery company, which can best be described as a potential customer of good bioinformatic databases.
We have our own computational technology for molecular modeling, simulation, protein/ small molecule/bio molecule interaction studies at structural level, protein structure modeling and virtual screening, which is utilized in-house to generate intellectual property. This intellectual property includes new chemical entities for various therapeutic areas and also, new indications for approved drugs. Our business model is to develop such intellectual property independently or in collaboration with other parties or the customers themselves and out-license the discoveries post pre-clinical validation to pharma and biotech companies.
The market size can be estimated from the fact that every New Chemical Entity (NCE) so out licensed has the potential for upfront revenue plus success based milestone payments, as the molecules progress in the clinical trials, while the new indications for existing drugs are out licensed on significant upfront fees.
What are the strategies you adopted to be different from other companies?
As you may observe, there are many players in contract manufacturing, many players in contract research but none in India other than VLife, which is having proprietary technology, which cuts the time and cost of drug discovery. This in itself is a unique position creator with VLife.
Further our business model ensures that we play in the higher end of the value chain where "value" and not the "cost", is the determinant of the "price" that one can command. This too is a significant uniqueness of VLife.
What are the opportunities you intend to leverage to become a successful entrepreneur?
The drug discovery is highly serendipitous process. An idea costs over a $1 billion and 12–15 years to reach the market (Source: Tuft's university study). This was mainly because of the large attrition at every step of the discovery process, costing a large portion of the cost and time. We also observed that bioinformatics as defined earlier and simulation technologies as available in the market were not contributing enough towards reducing the cost and time involved.
Hence, we believed that there is need of technology innovation to design better molecules, screen them effectively and rapidly prior to embarking on time and cost expensive experimental process. Our technology innovation logic was based on enabling the scientists to take more informed "Go-No Go" decisions to identify molecules worthy of higher investment and providing a lower cost virtual environment to do "what if" analysis to ensure that they can explore vast scientific domain effectively before zeroing down on the ideas, where they should invest time and effort.
VLife's three molecules in various stages of pre-clinical development in just three years of existence and several new indications for existing drugs discovered in parallel during the same time indicate that our design logic is sound and that VLife's technology is contributing towards its objective.
Advinus Therapeutics, Innovating Solutions
Advinus Therapeutics, Bangalore
Dr Rashmi Barbhaiya, CEO & MD.
Advinus Therapeutics, an R&D driven company that is focused on the new drug discovery and development of pharmaceutical and agrochemical products, is promoted by the Tatas, one of India's largest and most respected business houses, with Dr Rashmi Barbhaiya.
Recently, Ratan Tata, chairman, Tata Sons, inaugurated the state-of-the-art drug discovery facility of Advinus Therapeutics in Pune. Located in the Biotech Park at Hinjewadi, Pune and spread over an area of 20,000 sft, the discovery arm of Advinus Therapeutics will undertake novel drug discovery and generating IP primarily in the area of metabolic diseases and inflammation. The facility in Pune currently has 55 scientists in various streams. It is equipped with state-of-art automated biological testing equipment using multiple platforms, molecular, cell biology and recombinant DNA technology, mass detected purification system and parallel synthesis for medicinal chemistry, 400 MZ NMR, API 4000 LC MS/MS. The facility will attract an investment of $5-10 million initially.
Speaking at the inauguration, Ratan Tata said, "Looking ahead into the future, the Group is committed to being in new high technology and knowledge-based industries and pharma is one such area. Backed by its strong team and infrastructure, we believe that Advinus will partner global majors in creating value from their research efforts and improve the quality of life."
R Gopalakrishnan, executive director, Tata Sons and chairman, Advinus Therapeutics said, "The Tata Group has partnered with a technocrat in an entrepreneurial venture, which is uncommon. We believe that such a business model backed by the combined experience of the team led by Dr Rashmi Barbhaiya as CEO and managing director and shareholder holds tremendous potential. TCS which is already in the bioinformatics and life sciences space will complement the pioneering efforts of Advinus.
Dr Barbhaiya said, "Post my leaving Ranbaxy, the easiest option for me was to go back to the US. But I had come to India with a mission and creation of Advinus Therapeutics offers an opportunity to leverage the India-advantage to discover and develop novel drugs with speed and cost-effectiveness. At Advinus, we will focus on creating cutting-edge research facilities with an estimated workforce of 550 employees by 2010 comprising of some of the best available talent pool from across the globe. It is a great privilege for me and every employee of Advinus that the company is promoted by a reputed group such as Tata."
Advinus also has a large operation in Bangalore, set over an 8-acre campus with over 180,000 sft of built-up space, where it offers end-to-end pharmaceutical R&D services in the pre-clinical and early clinical part of the R&D value chain. This end-to-end platform is the only one of its kind in India. Advinus also offers extensive capabilities in the agro-chemical and chemical development areas. The company is exploring opportunities in companies based in the US and Europe which are looking at cost-effective, high-quality solutions for their R&D programs.
Dr Barbhaiya is an internationally reputed pharma executive having extensive global experience in handling diverse aspects of drug discovery and development. He has held several prestigious positions in leading pharmaceutical companies and has an impeccable history in R&D operations and a successful background in business development and deal making. Past offices held by Dr Barbhaiya include president of R&D, Ranbaxy Research Laboratories, New Delhi, and vice president in the Pharmaceutical Research Institute, Bristol-Myers Squibb (BMS). In his 21 years with BMS and two-and-a half years with Ranbaxy, Dr Barbhaiya has been instrumental in discovery and development of numerous new drugs and drug delivery products. He obtained his PhD degree in Clinical Pharmacology from the St. Bartholomew's Hospital Medical College, University of London and combined his education through post-doctoral training at the University of Florida and University of Wisconsin. Over his career, Dr Barbhaiya has authored numerous publications (about 150) covering a broad range of therapeutic areas.
DGK BioAgroFoods, An Advisor
DGK BioAgroFoods, Bangalore
Divakar Rao, CEO
Divakar Rao has been associated with the life sciences industry for the last 28 years. A recipient of the Chancellor's and Vice-Chancellor's gold medals from the Pantnagar University, he began his career with the private sector food industry in India in the areas of quality assurance, R&D (new food product development) and production. He later shifted to the government sector where he worked in Mother Dairy, Delhi, managed by the NDDB and Karnataka Milk Products Ltd, Dharwad. He has worked in the areas of food safety, rural project design and dairy project management from blueprint to commissioning stage. Divakar Rao has also been involved with overall management and successful implementation of integrated dairy development projects in the cooperative sector for over 12 years as a senior executive in the Karnataka Milk Federation, Bangalore.
During his tenure as the executive director and founder CEO of the Karnataka Biotechnology Development Council, he made significant contributions to the life sciences sector by bringing together R&D institutions, academia, industry and financial institutions and by way of policy inputs to the Karnataka government.
Today, Divakar Rao is actively involved in professional activities in the areas of rural development, dairy and food technology, agri-business, biotechnology, bio-energy, environment and general management. He is a member of various government committees, government institutions and professional associations and participates in conferences and seminars either as a resource person or an active delegate.
Currently he is the managing director and CEO of Bangalore-based DGK BioAgroFoods, an advisory body promoting agri-business, biotechnology, dairy development, rural development, bio-fuels and food processing sectors.
What made you start DGK BioAgroFoods?
When I retired in August last year upon attaining superannuation, I was obviously not ready to retire professionally. Upon weighing various options, it was apparent that no single assignment could do justice to the vast and varied professional experience that I have. I therefore started an advisory firm, DGK BioAgroFoods, which I felt would give me an opportunity to share my experiences with maximum number of people in the life sciences sector. The firm has been in existence since November 2005. We are into advising entrepreneurs and investors on the nuances of starting and/or managing various businesses in the life sciences sector. In other words, it is an extension of the work I was doing as the CEO of the Karnataka Biotechnology Development Council (KBDC).
How much have you invested in your company and what is your business model like?
Being an advisory firm, there has been little financial investment in it. The business model is rather uncomplicated. Being an active professional, I do keep meeting a large number of life sciences industry people. Whenever I feel that their business can be improved upon by our involvement, I make a brief presentation to them, explaining how our involvement could help them. Some of them do use our services.
We also keep track of the industry trends and make presentations to selected clients about new possibilities. Bio-fuels is one such area that I am rather passionate about and have been actively propagating the idea.
What is your outlook on the growth potential of the industry?
When you say "industry", I suppose you are referring to the biotech sector. The three primary verticals that biotechnology can contribute to enormously are agriculture, environment and healthcare-in that order in term of the potential. However, in actual practice, the trend is in the reverse order. This is because of the unfortunate controversies dogging the agri-biotech sector. However, I am confident that it is only a matter of time before the members of public and policy makers realize that there is no long-term substitute to biotechnology when it comes to enhancing agricultural productivity, improving the environment and making healthcare more reliable and affordable. In monetary terms, this contribution could be in trillions of rupees, more perhaps than the most optimistic guestimates!
What are the opportunities you intend to leverage?
When you study the industry and economic trends, the opportunities present themselves. The present "hot" opportunity is undoubtedly in the bio-fuel sector. DGK has been actively promoting this concept as the most potential contributor to the energy security with the in-built advantage of saving the environment as well. In fact, I have been rather active in the Biodiesel Society of India, which was formed over a year ago to promote bio-diesel. When I was with the KBDC, I have actively advocated relaxing of raw material norms for production of bio-ethanol.