From capsules to tech-driven growth, the ACG way

PT Jyothi Datta | Updated on December 06, 2019

Capsules and art are not quite two peas in a pod. But that’s precisely what the “Art in a Capsule” global campaign did by getting creative miniatures inside a capsule.

“It was to build awareness around the group and capsules,” says Karan Singh, ACG Managing Director, on the subtle and innovative campaign that was pretty much “in character” for the company.

Despite being the country’s largest capsules producer and second largest in the world, ACG has been shy of the public eye, though it has worked closely with the Indian pharmaceutical industry, offering it high-technology engineering-to-software solutions. “The number of capsules we produce is 20 times the world’s population,” says Karan, whose uncle Ajit and father Jasjit Singh built the company.

A conversation with Karan is peppered with anecdotes, a veritable snapshot from history, even as he is involved with building on the company’s innovative reputation and offering solutions powered by artificial intelligence (AI), machine learning and big data to pharmaceutical companies.

On a softer note on the artful campaign, Karan says one of the winners was from Mumbai, a person with cancer who was moved by the recognition of his art, even as he had to use the prize money to pay for his treatment.

Harking back to the 1960s, he recounts how his uncle Ajit Singh used to take a box full of capsules to customers. It was a time when Cipla promoter-family’s MK and YK Hamied would be in the lab formulating medicines, says Karan. It was when multinational companies were coming to India.

It was a time when an ACG customer expressed difficulties in adding new products as he would have to employ another 1,000 employees, women in this case, to fill capsules with the pharmaceutical ingredients using measuring spoons, he says.

“And that’s where Ajit came back and gave the idea to my father and my father sat with a group of engineers inside the plant and designed the first capsule-filling machine,”says Karan. The engineering division was born thus. The company brought in technology to make blister packs in India and its films business took seed. And as it continued to partner with customers, domestic and foreign, ACG developed technology to help track and trace products, he says.

“Now we are slowly morphing into a contract manufacturing supplier for niche technology, again all related to capsules... We are also looking at technologies like AI, big data, machine learning and creating a software platform for customers that will enable them to optimise their manufacturing. To drive more efficiencies through their plants,” says Karan. This would help lower the cost to produce medicines, making them affordable and of a higher quality, he adds.

Among the niche products ACG has ready for launch is an immunity product that’s awaiting global patents. And there are 55 such products that will be developed in collaboration with customer-companies.

A capsule is a “unique container”, says Karan. “It enables you to not only put a powder but also liquids or pellets or microtablets or a combination of 3-4 components.”

So, while Israeli companies talk of little cameras in a capsule, ACG is looking at technology where capsules can hold microchips that interact with a smart phone, for example, and also working with a university and a biotech company to get biotech products into a capsule. Presently, they are injected into patients.

An early transformation project Karan led in 2004 involved developing vegetarian capsules, made of cellulose from pine tree bark. Usually, it is made from gelatin (animal sources). There are cost and manufacturing challenges, says Karan and yet, manufacturing has grown from one line to two factories today.

Next big pillar

Karan is looking to replicate ACG’s India success, abroad, through staying relevant and understanding customer needs. With all its plants digitised, ACG is embarking on its “next big pillar” for growth, says Karan, referring to its software platform for drug companies to leverage the power of AI and machine learning. ACG’s advantage over software companies is its understanding of manufacturing and its processes. Besides, about 190 pharma factories in India already have ACG machines.

Karan admits there’s been interest from investment bankers to get a foothold into ACG. Though family-owned, it is professionally run, he says. And, with his three children now, “succession is in place for the next 50 years,” he says, laughing.

Published on December 06, 2019

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