‘Working In Different Countries Has Given Me The Confidence’

Updated: Jun 29 2002, 05:30am hrs
As a career option, the field of pharmaceuticals and research came naturally to Anita Menta, associate director, medicinal chemistry, Ranbaxy Research Labo- ratories of the Ranbaxy group. Reason: as a youngster, she grew up in the campus of Indian Drugs and Pharmaceutical Ltd (IDPL), Rishikesh, the government-owned antibiotic manufacturing company. Her father was an engineer there and as a child she had always dreamt of being a scientist and working on drugs. Today, this forty-something is not only an recognised scientist, but also leads a team of medicinal chemists in various projects at the new drug discovery research (NDDR) wing of Ranbaxy.

Anita Mehta
Further, she along with her team is credited for discovering drugs codenamed RBx 2258 in 1998 and RBx 7644 in 2002. While the former, which is for the treatment for benign prostrate hyperplasia is in phase II clinicals trials the latter, an anti-bacterial for which an IND application has been filed this month. And this is where Dr Mehta’s gets absolutely passionate while talking. “Out of 10,000 compounds that we work on it is only one or two that becomes a drug,” says Dr Mehta. She is working on yet another molecule codenamed RBx 8444 used in treating urinary problem and which is is in early discovery stage.

After taking her doctorate from Delhi University in 1986 Dr Mehta got an opportunity to go to the US to work on HIV inhibitors. “I left my daughter with my mother and my husband to be on his own, and flew to New York to make the best of this offer,” she says. Later she got more opportunities; one as senior research assistant in the University of Manchester and another one with ICSN Paris, France in 1991. Here, she got an opportunity to teach pharmacy to the undergraduates and she was also awarded a medal for her exceptional research contribution in CNS drugs.

In 1993 it was a tough decision for her whether to come back to India or to stay back in Europe. “ISCN Paris provides excellent research facilities and even the Americans who normally prefer research labs in the US come there to study,” says Dr Mehta. But she decided to come back to India and join Ranbaxy as a senior research scientist. However, she feels, that her experiences at different laboratories has given tremendous boost to her confidence. “The opportunity of working in different laboratories in different countries has helped me adapt myself to environmental and cultural needs and has given me the confidence to deal with people from different backgrounds,” says Dr Mehta.

Today Dr Mehta has published 16 papers in organic chemistry and 22 years of research experience in medicinal chemistry behind her. She is also one of the very few organic chemists who started using computational chemistry to understand the complicated forces involved in organic reactions. Based on her research she has published her works in reputed journals. But Dr Mehta is unhappy about the fact that very few qualified women go in for a profession in academics or industry.

“There is definitely a disconnect between the number of women who receive a Ph.D in Chemistry and the number that become professors at major universities what to talk about joining the industry,” she laments.

In mid-1990s, she was a offered a Reader’s post in Delhi University. And as she always admired her professors she did get lured but decided to stick to Ranbaxy as she saw tremendous scope for growth. And she grew. She was made the associate director in the year 2000. “There are ample opportunities to do serious research here and there is no dearth of funds, something that most often frustrate scientists,” she says. However, to give expression to her academic bent she she teaches special topics in medicinal chemistry to senior students of Delhi university on invitation.

Dr Mehta never felt even close to being discriminated against because of being a woman. But she accepts one thing. “When I went to the US alone people in and around me felt that something is wrong with my marriage and that’s why I have crossed seven seas and gone to that country and that higher studies was just an excuse. Normally such things are not thought about for a man who leaves his family behind and goes abroad,” she says. It was only when her husband Arvind Mehta a senior professional with Alcatel then, started visiting her that people thought she was serious both in her marriage as well as about her research.

Her dream is to come out with new molecules which can be transformed into effective drugs and see Indian pharma research facilities hit the global map. “Ranbaxy is one such lab which I feel will do extremely well in coming years,” she says.

When not researching Dr Mehta is concentrating on something equally fascinating. She works with oil on canvas and also takes interest in her 15 year-old daughter, Aastha’s future. She is perhaps, seeing another scientist in the making.