Mumbai: French pharmaceutical firm Sanofi-Aventis SA, the world’s third largest drug maker by sales, is looking to India to expand its scientific capabilities and tap new business opportunities. That’s a path being taken by other international drug makers as well, as they come under pressure in their home markets in developed economies.
Marc Cluzel, who became Sanofi’s global research head in November, was in India last week to meet at least a dozen scientific institutions and drug research firms and domestic drug makers in the public and private sectors. Cluzel, who is executive vice-president (research and development), met officials at scientific institutions such as the Indian Council of Medical Research, Indian Institute of Science, Bangalore, and regulatory agencies including the department of biotechnology and department of pharmaceuticals.
Sanofi, which spends €4-5 billion (Rs24,920-31,150 crore) on research and development (R&D) annually, is expected to invest some €650 million over the next five years in India. In an interview, Cluzel said Sanofi plans to have a “dedicated set-up in India for discovery research”. Edited excerpts:
Sanofi had in 2009 significantly restructured its research set-up worldwide, anticipating key changes in the pharmaceutical market. How important is India as a source of research skills?
Very important. In India, there are a number of players, including government laboratories, universities and even private sector companies, who can contribute significantly to modern drug research. We are keenly looking for partnering with many in this area to take forward our research for the future.
We realize that it is time for adapting different approaches using the development of science. Future medicines will be different from what we use now… It will be personalized medicines in future, using the possibilities of modern science such (as) genomic revolution and the capabilities of information technology.
Drug discovery: Sanofi’s global research head Cluzel says that since the future growth for big drug makers would be largely from the emerging markets, the firm will look at diseases specific to these regions. Kaushik Chakravorty/ Mint
I had interesting meetings in the country, and I think there are many joint research projects possible through collaborations and public-private partnerships. Looking at the research opportunities in India, we are now planning to have a dedicated set-up in India for discovery research by appointing a dedicated officer to oversee these activities in India.
What is the model you would follow in these partnerships?
It will be like sharing investment, skills and results.
What are the disease segments the company will on focus now?
Sanofi is currently exploring new approaches, and develops products in the areas (such as) cardiovascular diseases, diabetes, cancer, central nervous system disorders and internal medicine. We will also look at anti-inflammatory and anti-infection areas. Since the future growth for big pharmaceutical companies would also be largely from the emerging markets, including India, we can look at diseases specific to these regions. There are unmet medical needs in these markets, and several diseases which were not in the focus for big pharma companies till now.
What are the new challenges that top pharma companies such as Sanofi are facing in discovery research?
We have to look back to science in the modern concept, which will only offer the products for future market needs. At the same time, managing cost is another big challenge that these companies are facing.
There are about 20-25 successful drugs coming out of the research process that actually work on several candidates in the world a year, with a total cost of about $60 billion (Rs2.73 trillion). This means one new drug costs at least $1.5-2 billion on research. So reducing the attrition in the research pipeline is the key challenge for any drug company, including Sanofi.
Are blockbuster drugs (drugs with sales of $10 billion and above annually) disappearing from the research portfolio of top drug makers?
Blockbusters are largely disappearing in R&D in the process of increased safety and regulatory scrutiny. But there is still scope for such drugs by the expansion of science into the possibilities of genomic revolution and other capabilities. It will depend on how the researchers can articulate how differently the drug works in people to address a critical disease. But it will take time.