With ‘One dollar equals one rupee in India’ formula, Anji Reddy will be best remembered for ushering in the era of affordable medicines.
Kallam Anji Reddy was one of the best known faces of India’s pharmaceutical industry for good reason. His career of 45 years paralleled the transformation of the industry from one with little capability to make basic drugs to being acknowledged as the ‘pharmacy of the world’.
Anji Reddy played no small part in this transformation, but he wore his achievements lightly. When asked about his life or his many achievements, the response was never impressively profound. It was invariably an anecdote, punctuated by chuckles and an infectious enthusiasm.
Ask him when he thought of becoming a scientist and he would guffaw and say, “You know, I almost did history in my intermediate.” It could well have been history, for Anji Reddy was born in Tadepalli, a small town in rural Andhra Pradesh, and studied in a Telugu-medium school at Nutakki, a nearby village. Like many of his generation, Anji Reddy thought of history for the only reason that an elder in the family had pursued that path. Or, he could have landed up in the Agricultural College at Bapatla, another nearby town, as his father, a well-to-do turmeric famer, thought he would be interested in continuing the family tradition.
Fortunately for the pharmaceutical industry, Anji Reddy graduated in Chemistry and followed it up with a Master’s in pharmaceutical technology at UDCT’, Bombay, and then a Ph.D. from the National Chemical Laboratory, Pune.
So, how did he join the pharmaceutical industry? Another chuckle — “I almost went to Europe to do a post-doc, but then I heard this big public sector undertaking was being set up in Hyderabad. It was such a great idea — we had little capability to make even the most basic drugs at that time. I was lucky to get the job.” From a job in IDPL in 1967, to founding the company that bears his name, Anji Reddy’s career is well known. He was one of the few who ventured out to make bulk drugs from basic raw materials and was significantly responsible for Hyderabad earning its reputation as the ‘bulk drug capital of India’.
Anji Reddy will be remembered for ushering in the era of affordable new medicines. Ask him what prompted him to do it and it would invariably be answered with the signature chuckle: “You know, ranitidine is an anti-ulcer drug. It was priced at $1 in the US. At that price, it would have given people ulcers in India, not cured them.”
His favourite formula was ‘One dollar equals one rupee in India’ and that was the uncomplicated pricing formula he followed for the drugs he developed. Was it altruism? “Not at all,” he would say. “How many people can afford to buy drugs at high prices? You make more money selling it at affordable prices and large volumes.”
Bulk drugs and affordable generics were major achievements for those times, as also building a noticeable presence in markets around the globe. The big leap was, however, in embarking on an ambitious drug discovery programme. “We have the capability,”” Anji Reddy always said with great conviction.
Undeterred by scepticism in the industry, Anji Reddy set about his task and quite incredibly his laboratories discovered a series of new drugs with great promise for the treatment of diabetes in the late 1990s and the early 2000s. Novo Nordisk, a world leader in diabetes treatments, licensed the drugs for development in a major ‘first’ for the Indian pharmaceutical industry. Anji Reddy insisted on the contract including a clause for Dr Reddy’s Laboratories to market the drug in India. “Of course, we must market it in India,” he declared. “It needs to be priced affordably.” Unfortunately, the drugs did not pass the final hurdles in the development programme. “I dream of a molecule discovered in India making it to the global markets,” Anji Reddy often said. “It is my unfinished agenda.”
(The author was formerly Advisor to Dr. Reddy’s Laboratories Ltd)