Three of India’s top business houses, Reliance Industries Ltd, the Tata group, and the Aditya Birla Group may have identified the new new thing in their diversified business portfolios—life sciences.
And while the Indian pharmaceutical industry has traditionally focused on bulk drugs and generics (or off-patent drugs) and, more recently, on opportunities in research and contract manufacturing, these three business houses are looking at research and new technologies that could, according to an analyst who tracks the pharma industry, give them an advantage in the “new drugs” market because “they will enjoy global patents on most of these technologies.” The analyst requested that he not be identified.
All three business houses have made significant investments in life sciences.
Reliance Industries has repositioned Reliance Life Sciences as an umbrella organization overseeing half a dozen research units and promoted Reliance Pharmaceuticals Ltd, a company that will look at manufacturing and exporting generics. While Reliance hasn’t spoken much about its plans for the manufacturing side of the pharmaceutical business, Reliance Life Sciences’ chief executive K.V. Subramaniam said the company hopes to use technology to create a “niche (for ourself) in the world healthcare market.” “Our current efforts of advanced researches in biotechnology, especially in the areas of cell science and gene-based therapeutics and diagnostics, are targeted at bigger healthcare challenges of the future,” he added.
Reliance Life Sciences has filed over 200 international patents on various innovations in the field of cell sciences, which has novel therapeutic and diagnostic applications for the treatment of cancers, cardiovascular diseases, organ-transplantation, tissue engineering and a host of new-age diseases. It is also in the process of setting up large capacity biopharmaceutical facilities targeting the patented biotech drugs market in the world. The company recently acquired a UK-based biotech start-up, Genemedics, which has a basket of new technologies in the area of biopharmaceuticals. And it has made a strategic investment in a US-based bio-technology fund and, through that, gained access to the work being done by around 80 companies engaged in research related to biopharmaceuticals.
The Tata group’s plans for the life sciences business span six companies that are either part of it or affiliated with it: Tata Chemicals Ltd, Tata Consultancy Services Ltd, Rallis India Ltd, Avestha Gengraine Technologies Pvt Ltd, Advinus Therapeutics Ltd and Indigene Pharmaceuticals Ltd.
Tata Industries Ltd invested in the Bangalore-based genetics research firm Avesthagen a few years ago. Subsequently, the group has invested in the Hyderabad-based Indigene Pharma, which has been developing molecular combinations that work in multiple ways at the same time to tackle illnesses. A prospective drug from Indigene targeting respiratory ailments is also in phase III clinical trials.
The Tata group is also an investor in Bangalore-based Advinus Therapeutics, the country’s first dedicated drug discovery company. The group’s software services company TCS has a healthcare technology arm which recently developed a gene-based breakthrough technology to fight malaria. And Tata Chemicals, which set up an innovation centre in Pune last year, has initiated key research projects based on bio- and nano-technology that have wider applications in the pharmaceuticals industry.
“We are working on many innovative projects at the new R&D centre in Pune, and we will take up any new opportunity emerging out of it,” said Kapil Mehan, chief operating officer, Tata Chemicals.
The Aditya Birla Group has recently integrated its R&D facilities for speciality chemicals at a new plant at Taloja in Maharashtra. With this, the group has entered businesses such as the manufacture of pharmaceutical ingredients and other allied products. In 2006, the group’s chairman Kumar Mangalam Birla had said that biotechnology was one of the businesses that the group was looking at for purposes of diversification.
“The new research facility (at Tajola) will have various project specific cells which will concentrate on different areas of product research and development,” said Hamied Bhombal, senior president and chief technology officer, corporate technology strategy and services, at Aditya Birla Management Corporation in an earlier interview with Mint. He added that the group had a “world-class research infrastructure which can accommodate hundreds of scientists.”