Return on investment, timelines key

Written by MG Arun | Updated: Nov 14 2012, 08:03am hrs
Drug discovery and contract research firm Advinus Therapeutics, in which the salt-to-software Tata Group holds a majority stake, recently pulled off a three-year deal with Japans top pharma company, Takeda, to jointly discover drugs, underlining the continuing interest of MNCs in Indias capabilities in the segment. Rashmi Barbhaiya, CEO & MD of Advinus, talks about the scope of the deal, the relations with the Tatas, and future growth prospects in an interview with MG Arun.

Exclusive drug discovery pacts have not been too common in the Indian pharma landscape. How did the deal come about

The president of Takeda, Tachi Yamada, had been president of R&D for GSK. When I was heading Ranbaxy's R&D, we had forged an alliance with GSK, which was Ranbaxy's first alliance in this segment. So, I have known him since then. But the latest pact came when we discussed some of the strengths Advinus brings to the table.

For instance, the pharma industry has three fundamental problems: return on investment, timelines and efficient utilisation of human resources. Our discussions centered around these issues. We had our young talent that could take up the drug discovery process. They are also impressed with the timelines that we have.

This is Takedas first major tie-up in India. Why was the alliance restricted to three years

Collaborations always need to have some finite time-frame. But it is possible to extend it for another year if needed. This is a big collaboration, involving three therapeutic areas metabolic disease, inflammation and central nervous system (CNS). We cant talk about molecules now since this is a pure research and discovery collaboration, and it will be some time before the molecules can be identified. The tie-up excludes all the other drugs that we have already in various phases of development.

How will the funding and milestone payments from Takeda be structured

There is going to be a $12-million guaranteed funding that will come for the three years, making it $36 million for three years. In addition to this, we have success-based milestone payments of $3 million more on each molecule. Then, if we succeed in discovering molecules, there are undisclosed success-based milestone payments for IND phases 1, 2 and 3.

The commercial rights for the drugs will be obviously be for Takeda. This is a significant development, not only for Advinus, but also for the whole of India. In the past 2-3 years, we haven't seen any major collaboration happening in India. The alliance is relying on our own scientists, but will have joint research teams.

There has been speculation that Tatas are now looking to exit Advinus. Is there any truth in this

Tatas are the majority shareholders. There have been false and malicious information that has been printed, and I cannot comment on speculative news. I am grateful to the Tatas for making Advinus a reality and supporting it. I only hope we can take it to the ultimate dream that we have shared.

Which are the other molecules in Advinus' pipeline

We have a molecule in phase 2, then we have discovered a molecule for a large pharma. That is in clinical trials. That came from our previous alliances. In pre-clinical trials we have an inflammatory molecule, one for Parkinson's disease. We discovered a molecule for rheumatoid arthritis or RA, and that is entering pre clinical.

What are the prospects of the contract research division

In contract research in Bangalore, last year we did Rs 90 crore and expect a healthy growth this year. This employs 350 people, and is seeing 30% plus growth since we began. In drug discovery, we have 130 people.