Updated on 11 May 2012
Dr Yusuf K Hamied, CMD - Cipla
Dr Yusuf K Hamied, CMD of India's largest pharma company, Cipla, has earned many unflattering epithets for building a company that "reverse engineers life saving drugs". Big pharmas, even today, describe him as a man with no respect for intellectual property while, at the same time, millions of people, the world over, have only gratitude for him. With over 2,000 generic products from Cipla made available across 183 countries, Dr Hamied has made healthcare affordable and accessible to millions of people in developing nations.
Recognizing his contributions to the life science industry, BioSpectrum conferred on him the BioSpectrum Asia Pacific Bioscience Industry Life Time Achievement Award in 2011.
Under Dr Hamied's leadership, Cipla burst onto the global pharma scene in 2001 making Triomune (first line anti-retroviral therapy for AIDS) available at less than $1 per patient per day.
The company has been onto HIV/ AIDS since 1991 when it was approached by the Indian government to produce AZT, the only known mono-therapy to combat AIDS - a health issue that had begun to plague India. Cipla took up the challenge, and in 1993 introduced AZT at $2 per day in India, against the then prevailing international price of over $12 per day. However, it was still too costly for patients in India and poor sales forced Cipla to close down AZT manufacturing.
Dr Hamied's interest in HIV was revived in 1997, when he came across the Highly Active Anti-Retroviral Therapy (HAART) Medical Report that talked about a cocktail of three drugs that was effective in managing and containing HIV. While the combination of these three drugs varied, it essentially involved taking six pills every day. All these six pills were made by different global pharma companies and all put together came at about $30 per day. Dr Hamied took on HIV again. Working through various combinations, the Cipla team arrived at an excellent cocktail comprising Stavudine, Nevirapine and Lamivudine. It was christened Triomune. In the year 2000, Dr Hamied offered this to the international market at $800 per patient per year against the then prevailing price of over $10,000 per patient per year. In one stroke, he made AIDS treatment a single pill therapy at a fraction of the cost. He also came up with fixed-dose combinations.
In 2001, after he further dropped the price to $1 per patient per day on humanitarian grounds the global pharma industry was left gaping in amazement. In mid-2001, some questions were raised on Cipla facilities not being qualified by the World Health Organization (WHO). Dr Hamied swiftly got Cipla into the act and got all the approvals in less than two years. Triomune was hailed as a major breakthrough in the fight against AIDS. Cipla had arrived and with it India's pharma industry took off to become a generics powerhouse that it is today.
Born in 1936, a year after his father, Dr K A Hamied, founded the Chemical, Industrial and Pharmaceutical Laboratories (Cipla), Dr Yusuf K Hamied was just about three years old when in 1939 Mahatma Gandhi visited Cipla to ask Hamied Senior for help. Gandhi said: Britain has approached with a promise of Independence, if India helps in the war effort. He asked Cipla to help meet the medical requirements of the British army. Cipla pitched in with Cipalon (Vitamin B12) and Quinarsol (anti-malarial). The company broke-even and turned profitable in 1940.