For Kiran Mazumdar-Shaw, fitting in was never an option. From pursuing a career in brewing, considered a male bastion, after her return from Australia in 1975 to leading India’s largest biotech company, the differentiated bets she has placed over the years has ensured that Biocon has emerged as a name to reckon with in the global biotechnology space.
Mazumdar-Shaw set up Biocon in 1978 with an initial investment of Rs.10,000, after an accidental meeting with an Irish entrepreneur who wanted her to set up a company to manufacture enzymes in India. After two successful decades, Mazumdar-Shaw and her team at Biocon realised that the enzymes business had reached most of its potential and wasn’t growing as fast as they would like it to. The business dealt with specialty or niche enzymes and the global market opportunity was very restricted. So in 1998, Biocon decided to go beyond enzymes and foray into pharmaceuticals. The company had already developed much of the technology and intellectual property (IP) in enzyme manufacturing. Now, they wanted to leverage all they had done with enzymes in the biopharma business. “Biocon forayed into pharma by leveraging its capabilities derived from its long experience in manufacturing enzymes. Unlike other companies in India which were largely focused on generics made by chemical synthesis, we chose to build our drug development and manufacturing expertise around fermentation and recombinant technologies. We set ourselves apart by not following the small molecule ANDA strategy but focusing on more complex biologics, both novels and biosimilars, for chronic conditions like diabetes, cancer and autoimmune diseases,” says Arun Chandavarkar, joint managing director and chief executive officer, Biocon.
The biotech pioneer even chose products that helped leverage its existing technology, be it statins, insulin, immunosuppressants or monoclonal antibodies. They were able to develop mycophenolate mofetil, an immunosuppressant drug used in organ transplants,