cipla: Pills to wellness, Cipla is seeking a new identity


Drugmaker Cipla wants to be more than just a pharmaceutical company selling a pill and aims to play a bigger role in a patient’s journey from illness to wellness.

Samina Hamied, executive vice-chairperson who won the ET Businesswoman of the Year 2021, in an interview with ET said that in the post-Covid world, Cipla wants to handhold patients right from testing, treatment adherence, building awareness, wellness and accessibility to medicines.

In addition, Hamied said the 75-year old company is trying to ascend the value chain by investing higher capital in biologics, and it is exploring new frontiers of science such as messenger RNA, and CAR T-cell (anti-cancer), and gene therapies. The company has also invested in a stem cell therapy. Hamied added that all the new forays would be through collaborations and partnerships.

Cipla has developed inhouse complex medicines such as peptide (small proteins)-based products and drug-device combinations.

“If I looked into a lens and would want to visualise what Cipla would look like to be 25 years later, it would be the most relevant, largest global healthcare company and I’m moving away from the word pharmaceutical – I’m going to the broader mandate of healthcare because I just think, post Covid, we have to look at the world differently, this has to move beyond the pill,” Hamied said.

“On one end, there is lung leadership, then there is our responsibility to society for tackling antimicrobial resistance (AMR), and making sure we continuously develop drugs that help fight AMR. But I think another very important spectrum is wellness. I would stretch the spectrum of wellness to include diagnostics as well,” Hamied said.

Hamied has successfully steered Cipla on an accelerated growth path with a focus on boosting margins, without diluting the core values and legacy it stood for. Both as executive director from July 2015 and as executive vice-chairperson from September 2016, Hamied has been instrumental in driving the company’s transformation from a traditional low-cost drug manufacturer to one with young professional management and an aggressive approach towards inorganic expansion.

One of the major successes of Hamied was building a strong US business, despite Cipla being a late entrant. Hamied said this was possible by pursuing selective yet complex generic portfolios. Cipla entered the US market in a big way with the strategic acquisitions of two generic companies, InvaGen Pharma and Exelan Pharma, for $550 million in 2015. From FY15 to FY21, Cipla’s US revenue grew close to five times. The US business contributed around one-fifth of the total revenue of ₹19,160 crore in FY21.

“I think there’s some benefit of being the late entrant,.. we were late to the party. So I think growing from a smaller base gives us the ability to grow faster. And also not having been in a realm where we get hit by price erosion, because price erosion in the US is almost 10%-11%. So not having a very large portfolio insulates us from that amount of price erosion, but also knowing that Cipla plays in very complex pieces, which has high barriers to entry, our respiratory business, (albuterol) today is $100 million in the US. So this is very thought through a selective complex generic portfolio, whether it’s around the peptide, injectables, the oncology or respiratory space,” Hamied said.

“We will always continue to go deep and have these complex generic assets. We also have a sizable government business that we support, because we have local manufacturing in the US,” she added.

Hamied expressed concern over supply chain disruptions and high inflation caused by the Covid-19 pandemic and geo-political risks like the war in Ukraine. “I think, coming out of this 2-3 years Covid period, we have learnt to build some resilience around this. But of course, there will always be situations where our supply chains will collapse, because of certain eventualities that we cannot plan for. But I think this is just global pressure. I don’t think this is just for pharma, or just for India, I think it’s across the board.”

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