Rebel With a Cause
Sitting Down With... Kiran Mazumdar-Shaw, Chairperson and Managing Director of Biocon, India.
Charlotte Barker |
From Master Brewer to The Medicine Maker Power List Top Three. How?
In India in the 1970s, it was really tough to get acceptance as a female brewmaster, and I quickly realized that although I was very keen to pursue this profession, it was going to be tough to earn credibility within the brewing fraternity. People believed that a woman would find it difficult to deal with male employees and trade unions – a lame excuse, especially as even then I was being consulted for advice on operational issues by leading breweries! Disappointed with the system, I took up a job offer with a leading brewery in Scotland and was preparing to fly out of India when I had a chance meeting with an Irish entrepreneur who offered me an opportunity to set up a biotechnology company in India. I thought, why not start my own business and show them what a woman can do? It was rebellion and the desire to prove myself that made me take up the challenge. In those days, biotechnology was an unknown area in India and enzyme technology, which I started with, was unheard of.
Who inspires you?
I’m inspired by people who are change-makers – people who go off the beaten track. While building my own company, I was inspired by Anita Roddick (founder of The Body Shop) because she is someone who has changed the rules of her business. I was also inspired by one of the leading bankers in India, who acted as my mentor. He was one of the first Indian bankers to go into venture funding with Biocon. When I first discussed my business idea with him, he got very excited. In those days the normal way of funding a business was to take a debt-based loan, but he told me that instead of giving me a loan he would like to fund me in exchange for a small stake in the company – that was music to my ears! Through my entrepreneurial and business journey I have always challenged the status quo and tried to create a new business model. In fact, I’ve always tried to do things in a different way. I think the difference lies in my DNA.
What do you consider your greatest achievement?
For 20 years, I developed innovative enzyme technologies for a large number of industries. Then, in the 1990s, I decided to transform my business model and leverage our strengths in technology for cutting edge innovation towards one goal – to produce biopharmaceuticals. That was a great inflection point in my entrepreneurial journey. I’m glad I made that decision because I’m really passionate about delivering affordable biotech-based drugs around the world. One of the biggest challenges in the developing world is affordable access to these very expensive complex biological drugs. As an Indian, my whole ethos is to address that problem. I often say a blockbuster drug should not be measured by the billion dollars it earns, but by the impact it makes on a billion patients.
What’s next for Biocon?
The drugs we have in the pipeline are very exciting. For example, we have an oral insulin under development, which could be a huge game changer in diabetes management. Early insulin therapy can be hugely beneficial to diabetic patients but compliance is poor for injected insulin so it is usually only prescribed in severe cases. A tablet form will be easier to administer, so has a lot of potential for diabetes management.
We also have a range of monoclonal antibodies. I’m very excited by the whole area of immunology. The immune system has a major role to play in a large number of diseases, especially those treated with biopharmaceuticals – whether it is diabetes, cancer or autoimmune diseases. The importance of antibodies is gaining a lot of traction and there are so many inspiring discoveries being made. This makes it very exciting for me as a scientist and as an entrepreneur.
Where do you see the company in five years’ time?
Depending on the success of our programs we could be a very, very different company in five years. We are building the company on a high-impact portfolio of products, which will allow us to support other novel programs in future. If we can take oral insulin to the market then it will absolutely change the way the company is looked at, so I would love to have that as a blockbuster drug from our stable. Additionally, we have developed another novel biologic ALZUMAb (Itolizumab), which is the world’s first anti-CD6 monoclonal antibody launched in the market for psoriasis, and has blockbuster potential to treat several other autoimmune conditions.
Finally, what are the top three attributes of a successful entrepreneur?
You need to really believe in what you are doing, have a deep sense of purpose and enjoy taking on challenges!