MSD, the American biopharma giant, is bullish about expanding its India presence and becoming an important partner in meeting the country’s rising healthcare demands, besides supporting research initiatives and mega programmes like the Ayushman Bharat.

As far as MSD is concerned, India is currently under-represented among the emerging markets in the overall scheme of things, says Jan Van Acker, its President for Emerging Markets.

In an exclusive interaction with BusinessLine on a wide range of issues, Jan Acker said MSD’s focus is on collaboration, partnerships and investment in R&D to help emerging countries reduce the disease burden on their growing population. He also raised concerns over the extant IP and regulatory environment.

On vaccines and research

MSD has established the Hilleman Laboratories, based in New Delhi, through a partnership with Wellcome Trust UK. It’s a first-of-its-kind joint venture operating on a not-for-profit basis to develop affordable vaccines for low- income countries.

With an overall investment of over $8 bilion in 2019 on research and innovation, the company is focused on vaccines, oncology, infectious diseases and hospital care for emerging markets like India.

On IPR issues

Acker also highlighted some concerns related to IPR. “We want to applaud the government of India for focusing on patent law and making significant progress on that front. But we would like to highlight the disconnect between different ministries. We're working with the Indian government to iron out the issue,” he said. He cited the recent GIPC report (Global Intellectual Policy Center) Index to underscore the point that the IP environment in India needs further strengthening versus peer economies competing for overseas investments. India has a strong generic industry to take advantage of initiatives in the regard, he added.

On clinical trials

Acker also sought regulatory convergence to enable faster access to the company’s products and to expedite launch timelines by doing away with supplementary requirements, including additional clinical trials that can be very difficult to conduct.

“If you look at countries like Singapore, Ireland and even Brazil, governments have tried to think through what are the conditions that need to be included in the law to attract significant additional investment. And that's really what we would hope to see in India so that we can do even more here,” he said.

India strategy

Talking about the company’s local collaborations, Acker said: “We have more than one thousand employees who focus on areas that are most important to India, including metabolic disorders, vaccines, critical care, oncology, women’s health and primary care. We manufacture more than 80 per cent of the volume of our products in India through our local partners. The partnership with Sun Pharma has been amazing, enduring and fruitful.”

On the manufacturing side, most of the small molecule API volume of the company comes from India. “Januvia, the diabetes drug; Keytruda for lung cancer; and Gardasil for HPV or cervical cancer are examples of products we have launched that are important for a large country like India. But if you look at overall emerging markets, I would say that today India is under-represented given its potential. Two-thirds of the world’s population live in emerging markets, and India probably accounts for 20-25% of that. So obviously, India is very important for us,” Acker said.

New areas of focus

MSD is also spinning off a company that will have a portfolio of drugs, and as a long-term strategy, focus on women’s health. Headquartered in New Jersey, the entity, to be called NewCo, will be in place by the first quarter of 2021.

The company has also developed a promising, long acting drug to tackle HIV/AIDS. It will shortly go into Phase-3, clinical trials.