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Tata to fund former Ranbaxy honcho's new venture

Gauri Kamath & Radhika Dhawan | May 13, 2005

Three former scientists and a former senior manager at India's top drug maker Ranbaxy are joining hands to start a boutique drug discovery and development outfit, Businessworld reports.

The start-up, to be headed by Ranbaxy's former R&D head Rashmi Barbhaiya, will receive funding from none other than the Mumbai-based Tata group. Both Barbhaiya and the Tata group were not available for comment.

To be christened Advinus, the outfit will have its discovery labs in Pune's Hinjewadi biotech park. It will do work in the area of new chemical entities, jargon for completely new drugs.

As part of this plan, Advinus will acquire Tata group company Rallis' development centre in Bangalore and integrate it with itself.

When announced, the deal should set to rest speculation about the movements of key Ranbaxy scientists whose exit succeeded that of the company's illustrious CEO Davinder Singh Brar almost a year ago and who have since kept a low profile.

Barbhaiya quit in April last year along with K. Srinivas, who headed bulk drugs research. Srinivas, too, has joined Advinus.

Kasim Mookhtiar, who spearheaded new drug discovery research in Ranbaxy, is believed to have thrown his weight behind this new venture. (Ranbaxy has not announced his exit yet.)

Sanjiv Kaul, former head of corporate affairs and allied businesses at Ranbaxy and now management advisor to private equity firm ChrysCapital, is also believed to be on board. The team has also roped in a senior scientist from Shyam Bhartia's Jubilant Organosys.

Barbhaiya joined Ranbaxy in August 2002 from US drug maker Bristol-Myers Squibb. He was hand-picked by Brar for the post and occupied it for two years under Brar's reign.

Industry watchers have been quick to link his departure from Ranbaxy to Brar's exit at around the same time. However, while Brar invested in the Hyderabad-based GVK Biosciences and joined its board, Barbhaiya ran his own consulting company Dynametics, which he operated from India and the US.

At the same time, Barbhaiya worked with his former colleagues to put together a blueprint for Advinus.

The timing is right. India has moved to a regime that protects intellectual property. Big Pharma is showing willingness to source cost-effective research from India. Some of the big firms have already licensed in new drugs from Indian companies for further development and are on the lookout for more such opportunities.

So far, the licensors have been medium- to large-sized Indian companies who are also balancing a growing generics business that needs its share of investment.

With support from a strategic investor like the Tata group, Advinus will be able to focus exclusively on drug discovery and development. The group for its part will have a finger in the pharmaceuticals pie once again after having exited the business once before.

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