Big Pharma Comes Calling

That Indian pharma is going to be the next big growth story has been common knowledge for quite a while now, with most industry experts pitching it as the best thing to have happened after IT. After all, how could it possibly not be- even a cursory look at urban India’s increasingly sedentary lifestyle will tell you just why the Indian market is one that no pharma major can possibly ignore. This is a country sadly devoid of even the bare essentials of a sporting culture, with the genteel game of cricket passing off as strenuous physical activity for most. Furthermore, with the increasingly consumerist Indian middle class looking West for its share of material salvation( for spiritual, we have got Osho), we are well on our way to becoming honorary patrons of several hitherto uniquely Western afflictions, be it child obesity or the Mid-Life crisis- in fact, after Kevin Spacey’s American Beauty act, it has become unfashionable not to have one- all of which serve to pave the way for an entirely new segment of lifestyle-related diseases that the West in general and Americans in particular  seem to specialize in, and creating new demand for an expanding array of anti-obesity and anti-depressant medicines in the Indian market. Given this background, it comes as no big surprise that the last year has witnessed a slew of big-ticket deals involving a number of Indian firms being taken over by leading global pharma majors. 2010 saw Piramal Healthcare sell its domestic formulations business to US based Abbot for 17,353 crore and came two years  after the country’s largest drug maker Ranbaxy was acquired by Japan’s Daiichi Sankyo for 21,574 crore in 2008.  For the most part, it would appear that the Indian firms have got a good deal for themselves- the Piramal-Abbot deal valuation, at five times the sales value, was well over the usual two-four times sales at which pharma stocks are generally traded and much higher than what Ranabaxy had managed to get from Daiichi. However, as encouraging as the news may be for the domestic firms concerned, there is (apparently) such a thing as too much success. Growing ever-more concerned at the acquisition of Indian firms by multinational corporations, the Indian govt is seriously considering imposing a 49% cap on FDI in the pharma sector. More specifically, there is growing concern in govt circles about foreign firms increasing the price of their products to such levels where they may well go out of the reach of the vast majority of  people at home. While enforcing restrictions on foreign pharma majors may not be the best of ideas at a time we are trying our level best to market ourselves as an attractive foreign investment destination, it would be seriously unwise for any MNC to believe it can create a foothold in the Indian market by implementing radical price hikes that are bound to hurt the man on the street. In fact, irrespective of ownership, all drug –makers in India would do well not to kill the golden goose- lest we forget, the huge success of Indian generic firms across the globe has largely rested upon the low-price model and their ability to provide medicines at low cost  to millions of customers in western markets. For them to now change that model is unlikely to bring in the expected dividends in one of the most price-conscious markets in the world. Notwithstanding the ownership structure, India will likely continue to attract Big Pharma for some time to come as more and more Indians enter the middle/upper-middle class segment of society.We are simply far too lazy and slothful a nation to change in a hurry- – it’s not for nothing that both chess and card games are believed to have their origins in ancient India. Meanwhile, allow me to take your leave before my fingers begin to hurt.

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