Q&A: Sandeep Gupta, MD, Eli Lilly (India)

US-based pharmaceutical major Eli Lilly is giving India and three other developing countries a $30-million grant to fight non-communicable diseases such as diabetes and cancer. The Indianapolis-headquartered MNC’s Indian subsidiary’s managing director, Sandeep Gupta, spoke to Joe C Mathew on the importance of the initiative and the 1876-founded company’s growth plans in India. Edited excerpts:

Could you tell us about the just-announced partnership?
The $30-million commitment (announced on Tuesday) for over five years is to fight the rising burden of NCDs (non-communicable diseases) in developing countries. The Lilly-NCD partnership combines the company’s unique resources with the expertise of leading global health organisations, to identify new models of patient care that increase treatment access and improve outcomes for underserved people. The Public Health Foundation of India, Project HOPE and Population Services International are the three Indian partners in this project. The project aims at creating scalable models of healthcare for diabetes, based on sophisticated research and detailed data collection. We will inform key stakeholders about programme findings and encourage adoption of proven, cost-effective solutions. On a pilot basis, the project will be implemented in Visakhapatnam (Andhra Pradesh) and Sonepat (Haryana), where we will strengthen diabetes-care capabilities at primary health centres, improve system efficiencies and increase appropriate use and medication compliance for improved patient outcomes.

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Eli Lilly is next month losing patent protection on its most profitable drug, Zyprexa, which contributes to 20 per cent of its $23-billion global sales. In this context, how do you see Lilly’s growth strategy in the developing countries, especially India?
Emerging markets growth will be pivotal to the overall growth of the company in the coming years, with the plan being to double revenues from emerging markets in the next five years. We also aim to focus more, and execute better to increase our productivity in every sphere. With some of these initiatives, maybe we may not still completely offset the revenue losses from the patent expiries, but the company remains confident of delivering promising growth in the next few years.

India is seen as a key emerging market by most global drug multinationals. In recent years, Japan’s Daiichi acquired Ranbaxy and US-based Abbot took over the major chunk of Piramal’s product portfolio. How does Lilly intend to strengthen its emerging business?
We have a multi-pronged strategy towards that objective. This includes focus on partnerships, new product launches, and added focus on our existing products. In India, we recently announced a promotion and distribution tie-up with Lupin for our Human Insulin range. Lupin has put up a totally new team of 300 people behind the Huminsulin range. With that one move, Lilly Human Insulin would now have access to 45,000 doctors across the country, more than double our own coverage in past. This enables us to focus more on the newer Insulin therapies such as Analogs and a few others. These are just some of the ways by which we would catapult our emerging business to the next level.

Is the Lupin partnership exclusive? Are you looking at more such partnerships?
While Lupin would be the only company promoting Lilly’s conventional human insulins, Lilly India is open to more such partnerships for other products if it fits into our overall growth strategy. One of our top priorities is to increase the flow of innovative new medicines and services that make a real difference for patients. To achieve this, we do recognise that Lilly resources and capabilities are necessary. But they are not often sufficient. The moot point is that no one company can do it alone in today’s environment. Partnering has been a key and explicit element of our strategy for many years and it would continue that way.

How do you see Lilly being ranked in terms of revenues in India in the next five years?
Before I go there, let me share with you that Lilly India has actually doubled its revenues in the last 5 years, growing at a CAGR of nearly 15 per cent over that period. We only operate in niche segments and our central focus remains on diabetes. With the announcement of the Lupin partnership, we have begun the journey to become a “Diabetes Powerhouse” over the next few years. Today’s announcement of the NCD partnership is a step in the same direction. Even as we speak, we are putting in place a team of 70 Diabetes Educators with the sole aim to provide education and counseling services to providers and patients of Diabetes in this country. Revenue-wise, Lilly India plans to grow three times our current size to approximately 750-800 crore in the next five years.

India is in the process of introducing a system to check the prices of medicines meant to treat NCDs such as diabetes and cancer. Do you think it can affect the revenue prospects of Lilly, which has a special focus on such diseases?
Well, firstly, as you know, insulin is a price-controlled product in India. Secondly, our insulin prices in India are already one of the lowest when you compare that to some of the other ‘like countries’ where Lilly operates. Even when compared to generic alternatives, the price difference between us and the conventional human insulin is no more than 10-12 per cent. Not too many people today recognise that Daily cost of therapy of human insulin is little over Rs 10 per day which makes it a very affordable drug. That said, we are in the process of introducing more products from our global portfolio in the domestic market. We are hopeful that subject to regulatory approvals, two more anti-diabetes drugs could be launched in India in the next one year, taking our total product portfolio to 12 products.

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