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Glenn Saldanha, chairman & MD, Glenmark. (Ramesh Pathania/Mint)
Glenn Saldanha, chairman & MD, Glenmark. (Ramesh Pathania/Mint)

‘Covid shows drugmakers need to collaborate in R&D’

We were the first company to launch favipiravir in the Indian market and knew this would invite ample competition, says Glenn Saldanha, chairman & MD, Glenmark

NEW DELHI : The covid-19 pandemic has highlighted the need for Indian companies and research organizations to collaborate with the government to develop new drugs in order to meet future health crises, Glenmark chairman and managing director Glenn Saldanha said in an email interview for Mint’s Pivot or Perish series.

Saldanha said the company had expected competition for favipiravir, the antiviral drug to treat mild to moderate covid-19 patients, and was working to invest more in setting up active pharmaceutical ingredient (API) manufacturing plants in India following covid-19 disruptions in China. Edited excerpts:

What has been the impact of covid-19 and the subsequent lockdown on Glenmark? What were the lessons?

For Glenmark, as well as most other businesses, the pandemic proved to be an unforeseen and unfamiliar challenge.

Amid external disruptions to supply chain and movement, we had to ensure business continuity, while adhering to new benchmarks for health and safety.

In doing so, we swiftly embraced new digital innovations.

Glenmark has been active with covid-19 drugs, especially favipiravir. But now there is increasing competition in favipiravir, which has led to a price war. How do you plan to offset it?

When covid-19 hit India and paralyzed our health system, it was clear we had to do something to give the country a viable treatment solution.

We were the first company to launch favipiravir in the Indian market and knew this would invite ample competition in the days and weeks to come.

Today, thanks to Glenmark’s clinical trials on favipiravir, many other companies could also launch this molecule, thereby further reducing the cost of treatment.

Our fight against covid-19 will continue and we will continue to innovate in this space, to explore other promising treatment options.

Will pharma companies, including Glenmark, invest in domestic production of critical bulk drugs, especially fermentation-based medicines, after the supply disruption for active pharmaceutical ingredients (API) from China? What are your views on government incentives?

One of our biggest strengths has been the API business, which more recently has played a big role in the development of Glenmark’s FabiFlu.

We would like to occupy a leadership position as an API player and will continue to invest in this space.

Last year, we had spun off a separate subsidiary called Glenmark Life Sciences to specially focus on the API business.

We have also strengthened our relationships with top formulation companies in the European Union and look for opportunities for global partnerships across various regions.

The government’s measures to promote this progress is clearly a right step in this direction.

The pandemic has thrown up a new term, drug nationalism, wherein countries now believe that they should produce their own drugs. Is this a temporary phenomenon or will this be a lasting change?

Self-reliance is important for every nation today, and more so in the health and medical sector.

As a country, we are already making strides towards this goal, by being recognized as the pharmacy of the world, and in the near future, perhaps the API hub of the world.

During the pandemic, we were able to supply essential medicines to both India and the world markets.

We must view these situations as opportunities to make India a leading global provider of high-quality and affordable medication.

Will the pandemic increase the need for Indian drugmakers to scale up research and development (R&D) for new drugs?

Glenmark has always believed in the need for and purpose of R&D. Today, we have one of the largest R&D spends (13% of our revenue) among global generics companies.

We believe in the need to support innovation for new drugs, to meet the pressing health needs of the world.

The pandemic has shown there is a need for heightened response and different skill sets, making it crucial for governments, research institutions and private organizations to collaborate and harness each other’s resources to be better prepared to manage future health crises.

Will the pandemic accelerate the shift in medicine purchase from brick-and-mortar pharmacies to buying drugs online?

We are already witnessing a definite shift towards online purchase of medicines, and I expect this trend to continue for the foreseeable future. Convenience is certainly a big driver for the online route, but thorough regulation of this sector will be critical to ensure its long-term success.

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