|Dr. Anji Reddy, Image from here|
As many of you may have read in the newspapers, Dr. Anji Reddy, the founder of Dr. Reddy's Laboratories Ltd., one of India's largest pharmaceutical companies is no more. He passed away on March 15, 2013 at 3:45 PM after a battle with liver cancer. As one of the biggest names in India's pharmaceutical industry, Dr. Reddy had a significant influence on India's patent policy and unlike most other generics, he invested substantially in trying to create a new drug molecule.
We requested Raghu Cidambi, a former advisor at Dr. Reddy's Laboratories to write an obituary for Dr. Reddy, especially his impact on the IP debate in India.
Cidambi has also written another obituary in the Hindu Business Line which can be accessed over here.
Kallam Anji Reddy: 1941 - 2013
One would never have thought that Dr. Kallam Anji Reddy was a septuagenarian. The passage of years did little to diminish the spring in his step or his zest for life. And above all, it only strengthened his resolve to discover news drugs and put India among the front-ranking nations in the world of pharmaceutical producers.
When Dr Anji Reddy started out as an entrepreneur in 1976 to make bulk drugs after a stint in the public sector Indian Drugs and Pharmaceuticals, he wrote out his dream which became his mission in life:
“to bring new molecules into the country at a price the common man would afford”
Thirteen years later, in 1989, Dr. Anji Reddy created a sensation by halving the price of norfloxacin, the newest antibiotic at that time. And he followed it up with a slew of generics, many of them introduced into the country for the first time, and all of them at affordable prices.
He often joked about the pricing of drugs by innovators. ‘You know ranitidine is an anti-ulcer drug. It was priced at one dollar in the US. At that price it would have given people ulcers in India, not cured them’. His pricing formula was simple. If the innovator priced the drug at a dollar in the US, he thought it would be reasonable to price it at a rupee in India. In those days, his mantra was ‘One dollar is one rupee’. Affordable pricing of new generic medicines became the norm and India became the ‘pharmacy of the world’.
Just a few years later, the great patent debate was hotting up with reports appearing in the newspapers of the discussions of the likely contours of the TRIPS agreement. Much of the country seemed to be up in arms against the reintroduction of patents for medicinal products. Many politicians criticised the proposed changes vehemently, fearing that drugs would become prohibitively expensive. The generic industry feared that their business would be jeopardy. And the newspapers added to the alarm.
In the midst of all this, Dr. Anji Reddy delivered the Presidential Address at the Indian Pharmaceutical Association in January 1993. He went against the grain of the dominant view and bluntly said that “issue before us is not whether to accept the patent regime but a question of when it will be accepted.” He then went on to outline the feasibility of drug discovery research in India and urged its consideration. Such ideas were not even passing thoughts in most of the industry and the speech was met with open disbelief and scepticism.
Dr. Anji Reddy’s exhortations were not merely brave words. He had already set up a discovery laboratory. By 1997, he had licensed an insulin sensitizer to Novo Nordisk, the world leader in diabetes. The new molecule was in the same class as Takeda’s pioglitazone and SmithKline Beecham’s rosiglitazone and called balaglitazone, in honour of the Lord at Tirupati. This was a first for any Indian company.
Seemingly better things were to follow. In August 1998, Dr. Reddy’s licensed ragalitazar, a first-in-class molecule, again for the treatment for diabetes. This was a truly a significant scientific achievement by any standard. Novo snapped it up and the animal data was so impressive that balaglitazar was discontinued and the development of ragaglitazar proceeded apace. Dr. Reddy’s retained the right to market the product in India – ‘Of course, we must market it in India’, Dr. Anji Reddy declared. ‘It needs to be priced affordably.’ Unfortunately, the molecule failed at the final safety hurdle.
All through the 1990s and the turn of the millenium, Dr. Anji Reddy was a vocal votary of patents. ‘Do you want the world to think we are brainless?’ was his line in many interviews and public meetings while arguing for patents.
Many were puzzled by the apparent contradiction between the commitment to affordable medicine, the promotion of patents and Dr. Reddy’s Laboratories spectacular financial performance. To Dr. Anji Reddy, there was nothing odd about it. He often quoted George Merck:
“We try never to forget that medicine is for the people. It is not for the profits. The profits follow, and if we have remembered that, they have never failed to appear. The better we have remembered that, the larger they have been.”