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Piramal Abandons Drug Discovery

Pharmaceuticals: Risks, long lead times, and Indian regulations convince the company to reallocate resources

by Jean-François Tremblay
September 5, 2014

India’s Piramal Enterprises confirmed for C&EN on Sept. 5 that it will end its drug discovery activities. The move will affect several hundred scientists, many of whom were recruited internationally to work in one of the country’s most sophisticated pharmaceutical labs.

The company is considered a leader in drug research in India, and the exit raises questions about the future of drug discovery there. Piramal Enterprises is a deep-pocketed conglomerate, and within the firm, drug discovery was championed by the vice chairman, Swati Piramal. A scientist herself, Piramal holds a medical degree from Mumbai University and a master’s degree from the Harvard School of Public Health. The firm’s drug discovery labs in Mumbai were inaugurated in 2004 at a ceremony attended by India’s president.

“After re-evaluating 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,” Swati Piramal tells C&EN in an e-mail. “Our decision was driven by a combination of internal and external factors.”

Restrictions on conducting clinical trials in India played a role in the decision 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 far from getting out of pharmaceutical R&D, the vice chairman 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.

Moreover, the company will continue to support some of its clinical programs. In fact, some of the resources that were dedicated to early-stage drug discovery will be shifted to clinical studies of Piramal-discovered drug candidates, according to Swati Piramal. “As the pipeline funnel narrows and more products go through it, the resource allocation on promising molecules goes up and the teams become smaller,” she says.



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