Ithaka Life Sciences - Blog

Ithaka Life Sciences Ltd (Ithaka) is a provider of business advisory and interim management services to the life sciences sector.

Sunday, 24 March 2013

Biotech in India

A few weeks ago I visited Mumbai and New Delhi on behalf of ProteinLogic, a diagnostics and biomarker discovery company of which I am Executive Chairman. The visit provided an opportunity to meet a range of pharmaceutical and diagnostics companies as well as Ministry of Health officials, and so allowed me to develop some perspectives on the state of healthcare biotech in India.
I met a number of business founders and owners, and one of the things that struck me was their determination to build businesses that have global outreach but also serve the healthcare needs of India’s massive population. They strive to innovate in ways that will make healthcare accessible to the poorest sections of society; addressing the resultant financial constraints on product pricing has led to a form of “frugal innovation” from which the European biotech industry might learn some useful lessons.

Some examples of the impact of Indian organisations on healthcare innovation include:
·         The Serum Institute of India ( says that its vaccines now immunise half the world’s children. After developing the World’s first adsorbed liquid HDC rabies vaccine at a price that brings this ‘Gold Standard’ Rabies vaccine within the reach of the majority, the company continues to develop an active pipeline of vaccine and recombinant protein products.

·         GE's Healthcare's engineers in India ( were set a formidable challenge: take a 7 kg electrocardiograph (ECG) machine that cost $5.4 million and squeeze the same technology into a portable device that can be held with one hand. The resulting MAC 400 instrument costs $800, instead of $2,000 for a conventional ECG machine, and reduced the cost of an ECG to just $1 (50 rupees) per patient. A newer version from GE reduces the cost to just 10 rupees per scan.

·         The Aravind Eye Care System ( has become the world's largest provider of cataract surgery and comprehensive ophthalmic care, preventing millions of cases of debilitating blindness every year.  High volume, specialised approaches, in-house manufacture of intra-ocular lenses, and cross subsidies from paying patients mean that two-thirds of the outpatient visits and surgeries performed at Aravind can be provided to the poor at no cost or at highly discounted rates. Over 20 million patients have been treated in the last 30 years.

·        The Narayana Hrudayalaya Group ( provides world class cardiac care at radical low cost in part through a high volume, low margin model. Heart surgery costs a tenth of the cost of the same procedure in the US. Dr Devi Shetty founded the hospital in 2001 with 1,000 beds (compared to an average of 160 in American cardiac hospitals), and in 2009 the biggest cancer hospital in the world opened on the same site. The hospitals share back office functions, and together procure 10-12% of all health consumables in India, achieving huge savings through economies of scale.

·       Lupin ( has 55% of the global market for TB drugs. Dr Desh Bandhu Gupta's vision to fight life threatening infectious diseases and to manufacture drugs of the highest social priority led to the formation of Lupin in 1968. Lupin is now the 5th largest and the fastest growing Top 5 pharmaceutical company in the US (by prescriptions), the only Asian company to achieve that distinction.

·       Thyrocare Technologies ( is a diagnostics business that is the world’s largest thyroid testing laboratory as well as providing a wide range of other clinical diagnostic services. Thyrocare has pioneered a Centralised Processing Laboratory (CPL) model based in Mumbai. Samples from all over India are flown to the CPL, where they are processed and reported online within couple of hours. On average, 20,000 samples per day are processed by the CPL. Thyrocare has found it more practical to have a single laboratory catering to the demands of the country instead of running multiple laboratories at regional levels. By blending biotech, logistics and IT, Thyrocare has brought world class diagnostic services to all parts of India at costs which almost everyone can afford.

Some of these examples were drawn from a recent report exploring the policies, institutions and industries that are driving research and innovation in India that can be downloaded from the NESTA website (
Indian companies are very open to exploring relationships with UK companies to access healthcare innovations but equally they represent a potential source of innovation for Europe and North America, particularly in these financially challenging times.


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