The world’s sixth largest biotechnology firm by sales, Biogen Idec Inc., is enterting India and is on a hunt for research alliances to boost its drug discovery pipeline.
The Massachusetts-based drug maker’s wholly-owned arm, Biogen Idec Biotech India Pvt. Ltd, will be based in Gurgaon and is looking to collaborate with Indian drug companies and institutes on promising drug molecules, as it tries to go beyond its niche of complex biotech products.
With 2006 revenues of $2.7 billion (Rs12,533 crore then), Biogen trails Amgen Inc., Genetech Inc., Genzyme Corp., Gilead Sciences Inc. and Merck Serono SA in sales.
It follows Amgen, which already has operations in India.
While it doesn’t plan to create a frontline marketing salesforce for now, Biogen’s Indian arm is likely to look at contract manufacturing of smaller drug molecules besides adding new drugs, known as new chemical entities (NCEs), to its pipeline. It also intends to bring its drug clinical trials to India and collaborate with contract research organizations.
Seeking partners: Biogen Idec India MD Alpana Seth.
“We are interested in exploring partnerships in research & development (R&D) with the Indian drug companies, academic institutions as well as service providers, particularly in the arena of of small molecules or NCEs. Several Indian companies have developed very strong capabilities, which would be of interest to us,” said Alpna Seth, managing director, Biogen India.
“In addition, we want to integrate India into Biogen Idec’s ongoing global clinical trials,” Seth said. “Many of the diseases we focus on are also very prevalent in India and this will allow Indian patients and investigators to participate in trials of novel drug development and, at the same time, allow acceleration of R&D.”
She, however, declined to give any investment figures.
India’s “skills in biotechnology are slightly behind our skills in chemistry,” said Sujay Shetty, associate director with consultant PricewaterhouseCoopers. “Partnerships, such as those sought by Biogen, will upgrade our expertise even more,” he added.
Biogen develops and produces drugs for treating multiple sclerosis (Avonex and Tysabri), psoriasis (Fumaderm) and cancer (Rituxan) among others, and specializes in larger, complex and protein-based molecules that are hard to replicate. It is progressively moving into chemistry-based drugs and that’s where the firm could potentially leverage Indian companies’ strengths.
Key theraputic focus areas for the company are neurology, oncology, immunology and more recently, cardiovascular.
Biogen currently sells two of its blockbuster products MabThera (sold as Rituxan in the US) and Avonex through its marketing partners Roche Scientific Co. (India) Pvt. Ltd and Nicholas Piramal India Ltd, respectively.
Interestingly, a lot of Indian drug makers are moving the other way and getting into the biosimilars segment—copycat versions of biotech drugs. Firms such as Ranbaxy Laboratories Ltd, Dr Reddy’s Laboratories Ltd, Wockhardt Ltd and Biocon Ltd are eyeing the highly lucrative European market and then the US, where the government is still contemplating a regulatory pathway for this bunch of drugs.
According to a Frost & Sullivan study on biotechnology, the US alone contributed about $57 billion in revenues in 2006, with Europe grossing $10.24 billion, while the Asia- Pacific region posted a modest $3 billion.
The sector is also clocking annual growth rates of 16-18%, more than double the 7-8% growth rates observed in conventional pharmaceuticals, according to the study.
Biogen spends roughly 30% of its revenues on research. A significant number of its products and drug canditates were developed through partnerships and that “successful track record” is what Seth hopes to replicate in working with Indian companies.
“By 2025, India and China are going to be extremely important markets owing to the sheer size of their populations, coupled with changing disease profiles and growth-induced demand for health care services. We believe it is important to be on the ground early on to understand the market dynamics and needs,” said Seth.
Despite its India interest, Biogen has some concerns though, on the patent regime in India and is keeping a close eye on how intellectual property regulations shape up in the years to come.