Companies

‘We are working on malaria, dengue vaccines’

Alka Kshirsagar Pune | Updated on January 24, 2018 Published on June 23, 2015

adar poonawala





With the vaccines market in India growing at 15 per cent annually, and overseas markets clocking double that, the Serum Institute of In0dia Ltd (SIIL) is in expansion mode and has initiated a process to increase the existing capacity over the next two years. In addition, a new SEZ in Pune is expected to go on stream by 2018. Research on new vaccines is under way, and the institute is also preparing to enter the developed markets. The company reported a turnover of ₹3,500 crore in FY-2015 and expects to cross ₹4,000 crore this year. The failed bid for London’s iconic hotel Grosvenor House has left it sitting on a treasure chest of over $400 million. Seated in the expansive, exclusively appointed boardroom in the Hadapsar premises of the Institute, Executive Director Adar Poonawala spoke on SIIL, as well as the Group’s other initiatives. Excerpts:

Nearly 85 per cent of your business comes from overseas. Why are volumes in India so low?

I would love to do more business in India but we are discouraged at every step. It is virtually impossible because of the permissions and licences. To put up a new building it takes me one year just to get all the permissions.

I know things take time in a democracy, but the health ministry can certainly improve upon its performance in granting permissions for clinical trials and development of new vaccines and drugs.

How has the clinical trials policy in India affected you?

The need for video consent has single-handedly destroyed the speed and effectiveness of the trials, at least for vaccines. No other country has this, and it is killing the industry.

New vaccines like rotavirus and pneumococcal, where there are more than a million child deaths in India alone, cannot be launched and development is taking five years instead of just a year or two earlier.

What further investment is planned in India?

We’re all sold out here, so we are building another SEZ of around 40 acres in adjoining Manjri.

We are investing ₹1,500 crore in the first phase, and the facility will go operational by 2018.

To begin with, I think we will make one million doses a year of new vaccines like pneumococcal, rotavirus and HPV (against cervical cancer) that is currently only being imported for global use, as well as the 4-valent seasonal flu vaccine that can be sold in Europe and the US.

We cannot do this today as we don’t comply fully with European standards.

We are also working on vaccines for malaria and dengue. I think that will take at least another four years.

What’s new at Bilthoven Biologicals, the Dutch company you acquired in 2012?

We have put in close to €180 million here in the last three years, and plan to expand the volumes from 30 million doses to 50-60 million doses annually by 2017.

You have entered into a marketing tie-up with Cipla for Europe and the US where you currently have little or no presence. Is China on your radar?

China has all kinds of barriers and no vaccine company has been able to penetrate them, though it continues to dump things into India. It is very protective in the healthcare space. We tried, had some partnerships, but I am not very hopeful.

Do you regret investing in Panacea Biotech and Orchid Chemicals?

Orchid is a write-off in our books. The promoter had made a lot of commitments which he didn’t honour. We also failed in ensuring that he kept them and just let him do whatever he wanted.

We should have taken over the reins of the company, instead of letting the promoter run it…. it’s just been a disaster in my eyes. Over 80 per cent of our (over ₹200 crore) investment has been eroded… it is the only bad investment we have ever taken on hand.

Your bid for Grosvenor House hotel did not bear fruit. Are there any other hospitality ventures?

Grosvenor House was more of a trophy asset - we are not looking for other assets in the UK or the US.

The only other two hotel spaces are in partnership with Pune-based Panchshil Realty. We have signed up with for the Bulgari Hotel and Resort in the Maldives as a 50:50 JV.

In fact, we have closed in on a 90-acre island in the northern part of the Maldives and are breaking ground in three months. We hope to launch the resort in two-and-half-years’ time. The cost of the project between debt and equity is around $ 110 million.

At Business Bay in Pune, which is now worth ₹1,000 crore, we are putting up a Ritz Carlton.

Are there any other new initiatives?

We are in green energy, and also want to do social projects, like waste management. We have already committed ₹20 crore to clean the streets of Pune of garbage – picking it up and processing it in a green way, and converting it into gas. The PMC has given us some land and we have a plant in Baner and Talegaon. We are doing this in partnership with Noble Exchange Environmental Solutions. We are launching this in October.

Published on June 23, 2015
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