How a little blue pill changed Cipla’s fortunes

Amrita Nair Ghaswalla | | Updated on: Feb 10, 2014


A forerunner to Viagra, it set the company firmly on the growth path in the 1930s. YK Hamied recalls the story

Much before Pfizer’s little blue pill Viagra was making waves around the world, India had its own version of an anti-impotence medication. Called Okasa Gold, the wonder drug was a pioneer in tackling erectile dysfunction.

Cipla Chairman YK Hamied is very proud of the fact that his family was responsible for introducing the drug, ‘a tonic for male impotence’, in the land of the Kamasutra.

“The original erectile dysfunction drug was brought into India in 1931. My father, Khwaja Abdul Hamied, licensed the formula from Germany. With the money my father made selling Okasa Silver and Okasa Gold, he started Chemical, Industrial and Pharmaceutical Laboratories (Cipla) in 1935,” the 77-year-old Cipla chief told Business Line .

Maintaining that the anti-impotency pill “has worked wonders for us and was practically the foundation on which Cipla was built,” Hamied added, “More modern medicines came onto the scene and we had to discontinue it. It was a forerunner at its time though.” Continuing to reminiscence, he said: “There were three things my father brought from Germany, typewriters, sewing machines and Okasa. We sold all of them in India till the Second World War. When the war started, nothing could come in. That is when the focus shifted to medicines.”

Maintaining that the war gave Cipla a boost, Hamied said, “The first drugs that were rolled out from the Cipla plant were marketed only in India. We then started supplying for the war, and the drugs went to Burma and South-East Asian countries. Drugs for diarrhoea, dysentery, trauma and malaria all went from India.”

Stating that Cipla was the biggest supplier of anti malaria drugs, Hamied said, “Even today, Cipla is among the biggest suppliers of drugs to the world for anti-malarial, though right now it is mainly to Africa.”

Last October, Cipla received the clearance on a new version of anti-malarial drug from the World Health Organisation to be marketed in Africa.

With a personal net worth of around $2 billion, Hamied continues to chair Cipla, which markets anti-impotency drug Silagra in India.

Published on February 09, 2014
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