Adventures in Binational Biopharma: Innovative Medicines “Made in India”

This is a guest post from Susan K Finston, President of Finston Consulting. Do you have a response to Susan’s post? Respond in the comments section below.

Susan Kling Finston

As a Non-NRI, I did not plan to launch a bio-pharmaceutical start-up company in India on my own. That would be a little crazy. Instead I took a leap of faith to co-found Amrita Therapeutics together with biotechnology pioneer Dr. Ananda M. Chakrabarty, an Indian-born scientist awarded the first-ever biotech patent following the U.S. Supreme Court decision in Diamond v. Chakrabarty (1980).

Ananda Chakrabarty is an articulate and passionate advocate for the importance of patent protection,  and gifted biotechnology pioneer. We first worked together in the lead-up to India’s re-adoption of product patent protection for pharmaceuticals during my tenure with the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America (PhRMA) trade association. At that time, he already had experience with biotech start-ups in the United States, and began to see the potential opportunities for starting a new company in India:

Even before passage of the Third Patent Amendments in 2005, we began to talk about how wonderful it would be to-be-able-to establish a new biotech start-up company in India. We would benefit from full patent protection and do research on everything from soup to nuts. We would be able to bring entirely new, innovative bio-pharmaceutical therapies to market. This was the seed of Amrita Therapeutics.

Ultimately we agreed to organize the company in the state of Gujarat, due to the attractive commercial environment under long-time Chief Minister Narendra Modi, who had set up the Gujarat Biotechnology Venture Fund (GBVF) to attract innovative biotech start-ups. Following agreement on seed funding with Gujarat’s venture arm GVFL, Amrita Therapeutics had a soft-launch at Vibrant Gujarat in 2009 where I had the honor of meeting now Prime Minister Modi for a brief discussion of Amrita Therapeutics’ goal to bring new, innovative therapies and cures to meet the needs of patients in India and around the world. 

Gujarat was booming under the tenure of the BJP, and  generally it was a time when everything seemed possible in India even while the West staved off economic collapse. At that time we fully expected to be among the first of a large cohort of Biotech startups in India, also known as Micro-Small and Medium Enterprises (MSME), and this has not yet occurred. In fact, Amrita Therapeutics remains the only Indian biotech to have won the BIO Industry’s “Buzz of BIO” award.

Over the years I have offered observations as to how India could strengthen the environment for innovative biopharmaceutical development both at the State level and from the center relating to intellectual property protection, technology transfer, etc. These include specific policy recommendations in the recently published Innovation Blueprint Study commissioned by the Wadhwani Foundation. For example, fundraising for innovative product development in India remains highly challenging, due to the dearth of Angel Investor and VC culture for biopharma, where the Government would be well-advised to implement investment tax credits to promote investment by High-Net Worth Individuals. 

For now, though I would like to end on the positive note as to why we started Amrita Therapeutics in India and remain a Gujarati company to date. In late 2008 Ananda and I were able to reach agreement for modest seed funding from GVFL on the basis of what was then a highly novel research approach – only now six years on it may be the ‘flavor of the month.’  Similarly, despite the challenges of grant-in-aid programs administered by Delhi-based Government institutions, we continue to find receptivity for original thought and iconoclastic science akin to the early days of biotechnology in the United States. Simply put, while India lacks critical elements to become a growth center for innovative biotechnology, it does not lack for imagination.  This is enabling Amrita Therapeutics to bring new and better therapies to patients around the world that are “Made in India.”

 

About the author:
President of Finston Consulting LLC since 2005, Susan works with innovative biotechnology and other clients ranging from start-up to Fortune-100, providing support for legal, transactional, policy and “doing business” issues in the US and globally. Together with biotechnology pioneer Ananda Chakrabarty, she also is co-founder of Amrita Therapeutics Ltd., an emerging biopharmaceutical company based in India with peptide drugs in in vivo research. Previous experience includes 11 years in the U.S Foreign Service with overseas tours in London, Tel Aviv, and Manila and at the Department of State in Washington DC. For more information on latest presentations and publications please visit finstonconsulting.com.

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