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'Off-patents provide big opportunity'

August 10, 2007 12:48 IST
One of the two molecules developed by Dr Reddy's was named after its chairman Dr K Anji Reddy and another after Lord Balaji. Reddy, who started new drug research in the country a decade and a half ago, thinks it is divine message that the first has collapsed but the second survives. P B Jayakumar caught up with him and tried to balance science and religion. And yes, there is also the question of choosing between the son and the son-in-law. Excerpts:

About 50 new chemical entities are under various stages of development with Indian pharmaceutical companies and another 500 on trial. Do you look back with pride?

There is going to be a big opportunity and we should leverage that. Lots of drugs are going off patent in the near future and the world needs new drugs. Our scientists should focus on developing first-in-class drugs. That is more of a challenge than working on known science. When I started work on glitazones (a new type of drug used for treatment of Type II diabetes) in early 1990s, there was no such class of drugs available in the market, though research was going on. I wanted my research to be in that direction since the time for developing a drug is long. In 1998, we developed Ragaglitazar, which was a first-in-class compound, though it could not go the distance. Research involves passion and hard work. Lack of this may be the reason why big pharma's drug pipelines are dwindling in recent years.

What about your pipeline?

Our scientists in Atlanta and Hyderabad have isolated a path-breaking exercise enzyme that could belong to a new class of AMP-activated protein kinase - an important regulator of lipid and glucose metabolism that will lead to new drugs for obesity and metabolic disorders. Another important discovery is related to the class of statins, which is very effective in lowering bad cholesterol. We have also made a major breakthrough in reverse cholesterol transport, the process of moving cholesterol from tissues and plaques and ultimately out of the body.

You left a comfortable government job at 34 to start your own business. Wasn't it a big gamble?

Absolutely not. I was sure if I can make drugs for Indian Drugs and Pharmaceuticals at a time when we were importing drugs at 150 per cent duty, I could make money by making drugs for my own company. I am happy that I am developing drugs for society at large.

Who will head Dr Reddy's, your son (Managing Director Satish Reddy) or son-in-law (CEO GV Prasad)?

Both the boys are hardworking professionals. Once in the presence of Satish, Prasad jokingly told me, "If I want, at this moment, I can take away six of your senior-most executives." The boys look at things in a highly professional way and are not bothered about their chairs. Dr Reddy's is a passion for them. I am grateful to them for sparing me from the everyday rigour and help me spend the life I like, that of a scientist.

Your first drug is yet to be commercialised.

In March 1997, we licensed oral anti-diabetes molecule, DRF 2593 (Balaglitazone), to Novo Nordisk and became the first Indian pharmaceutical company to out-license an original molecule. I named it Bala, after Lord Balaji. By the time we out-licensed it, Reddy's had developed another anti-diabetes compound, DRF 2725 (Ragaglitazar). Novo was interested in this and they named it Raga, meaning Reddy. We licensed it to them in 1997 and they took it through to Phase III.

What are your plans on Balaglitazone?

It will be a $6 billion opportunity since by that time both Avandia and Actos will go off patent. Balaglitazone will be the only patented glitazone in the market with better results, such as less side effects, no weight gain and no edema (swelling caused by fluid in body tissues).

P B Jayakumar in Mumbai