In a move that raises questions about the future of drug research in India, Piramal Enterprises will end its drug discovery activities. The decision—which involves possible job losses—will affect several hundred scientists, many of whom were recruited internationally to work in Mumbai in one of India’s most sophisticated pharmaceutical labs.
The company has been considered an Indian leader in drug research since opening its discovery labs in 2004. Within the firm, drug discovery was championed by the vice chairman, Swati A. Piramal, a medical doctor who also holds a master’s degree from the Harvard School of Public Health.
“After reevaluating the risk-benefits of new chemical entity research, the company decided to focus resources on our other areas of R&D with shorter development timelines and different risk profiles,” Piramal tells C&EN.
Restrictions on conducting clinical trials in India played a role in the decision, made late last month, to end drug discovery, Piramal adds. “If Indian discoveries have to continue to undergo clinical trials in Western countries, there is a potential loss of the India advantage where drugs could be discovered and developed at a much lower cost than in the West,” she says.
Piramal Enterprises is not ending all pharmaceutical R&D, Piramal insists. The company has several drug candidates undergoing trials in the U.S. and other countries. And it will still perform R&D in anesthesia, molecular imaging, phytomedicines, generic pharmaceutical ingredients, drug formulation, and over-the-counter products.
The decision is not a serious setback for drug discovery in India, argues Nailesh A. Bhatt, managing director of Proximare, a life sciences consulting firm with offices in India and New Jersey. “It was a decision made by one company based on its own business plan and risk profile,” he says. “Companies like Glenmark Pharmaceuticals, Zydus Cadila, Biocon, and Suven Life Sciences continue to invest large resources in drug discovery.”
Indeed, Suven remains committed to its central nervous system R&D, confirms CEO Venkat Jasti. “In new chemical entity research, failure is the norm and success is a rarity,” he says. “You need to be patient and not worry about market capitalization and pressure from the markets.”