Curing India: Biocon takes on cancer and diabetes
Biocon Ltd.'s Kiran Mazumdar-Shaw explains the challenges of developing new biopharmaceuticals.

NEW YORK (Fortune) -- Fortune interviews Kiran Mazumdar-Shaw, Chairman & Managing Director, Biocon Limited:

We are trying to make the transition from being a generics company to an innovator company. When I started Biocon in 1978, it was an enzymes business. Then we evolved into a pharmaceutical business. Then from 2001, I had the confidence to say, "Okay, let's start developing our own molecules." I'm hoping in the next two or three years I won't even have to rely on generics anymore.

In the last year alone, we have almost doubled our R&D investment. To create a new molecule, you need a good understanding of regulatory matters and clinical development expertise. There's so much learning to be done. It's very different but really exciting and extremely challenging as well.

We are focused on two segments: diabetes and cancer. We have invested about $250 million in a global-scale manufacturing operation in Bangalore. In one part of that facility we are manufacturing monocular antibodies to treat many cancers, especially head and neck cancer. Licensed from a Cuban research lab, this new antibody has been recently approved, and we will bring it to market in India. We're also betting very high on oral insulin - a multi-billion dollar opportunity if it works.

We just started Phase I trials and they're looking very good. There's a big benefit to using oral insulin because it mimics the body and delivers the insulin into your liver through your portal vein. There is a hope you may be able to reverse early stage diabetes. There are over 30 million diabetics in India, almost a quarter of the world total.

The big challenge right now is for analysts to buy into Biocon's innovation story. Unfortunately, they still tend to categorize us as a generics company. They want us to develop and market generic molecules; they want us to buy generics companies. We keep saying, "Look, we're not interested in generic companies, because we're trying not to be one." --Interviewed by Cathy Tang

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