Pune Pharma Hub In The Making

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Pune’s pharma and life sciences sector has seen a significant growth, abetted by conducive conditions like good connectivity, cosmopolitan populace, skilled human resources and proximity of renowned educational institutes By Sachin Jagdale

Pune, the cultural capital of Maharashtra, is increasingly becoming a favourite destination among pharmaceutical and life sciences entrepreneurs to set up their manufacturing units. A allied sector players are also located in the city in a significant number. According to experts, Pune will continue to increase its pharma and life sciences strength, as long as it meets the demands of the sector.

Pune calling

There is a famous adage about Pune in Marathi, Pune tithe kay une. It means ‘Pune is abundant with everything that one would require.’ It perhaps rings true for the pharma and life sciences sectors as well. Already present in significant numbers, pharma and life sciences sector in Pune is slated to grow even further.

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Dr Suresh Jadhav

Dr Suresh Jadhav, Executive Director, Serum Institute of India, informs, “The prime operational needs of pharma biotech companies are world class infrastructure in R&D, manufacturing, healthcare and education. Pune fulfils most of these requirements by offering state-of-the-art natural biotech cluster which is providing the much needed impetus for biotech innovation and growth. Pune offers an excellent network of world class institutions including National Institute of Virology (NIV), National AIDS Research Institute (NARI), National Centre for Cell Sciences (NCCS), Indian Institute of Science Education and Research (IISER), and National Chemical Laboratory (NCL), along with reputed and ranked universities such as University of Pune, and Bharati Vidyapeeth University. The other universities such as Sinhagad Technical University, DY Patil University and Symbiosis are also offering graduate and post graduate courses in basic and biotech sciences. These universities are also involved in research and collaborate with local biotech industry at various levels.”

He adds, “Pune also hosts world class hospitals, medical colleges and clinics which offer excellent opportunities for clinical research and training. Pune hosts reputed medical colleges such as Armed Forces Medical College, BJ Medical College and KEM, Hospital. Such institutes together offer excellent support to the biotech industry in terms of knowledge and skilled manpower to companies located here.”

Serum Institute of India has been a leading representative of Pune’s biotech industry for several decades. Serum’s vaccines are taking care of the health of millions, not just in India but also globally. According to Jadhav, Serum Institute of India, since its inception, has benefited from the biotech cluster in terms of advanced instrumentation facilities at NCL, University of Pune etc, technical and epidemiology support from NIV in the field of virology, cell lines repository at NCCS, collaborative projects with University of Pune and Government of India on vaccine adjuvants and clinical trial support from BJ Medical College, KEM and Bharati Hospitals.

Strategic synergies

There are many other companies in this sector that have been benefitted due to their strategic location in Pune. Baner-based Genome Biotechnologies, well known for handling genomic research projects, is one such company.

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Sachin Purohit

Sachin Purohit, Managing Director, Genome Biotechnologies says, “Pune forms a very good hub for both pharma as well as biotech companies due to several reasons. Being an educational hub for both pharma and biotech streams, industries find sourcing of manpower relatively easy in Pune for their operations. It harbours not just a wide range of technical educations institutes but also management institutes, thereby offering to industry both technical as well as administrative human resources. Pune has been known as a centre for excellence with respect to the research and development activities in both pharma and biotech fields. Presence of multiple central and state government research institutes offers not just R&D opportunities to the industry but also a rich mine of experts and consultants who are essential in taking strategic and development-related decisions.”

Purohit sees Pune’s population as an added asset. Besides pharma and life sciences sectors many other industries are growing in and around the city. This has resulted in a significant rise in Pune’s population. According to Purohit, with a population close to 65 lakhs including the suburbs, Pune also has been known as a very good test marketing ground for launch of pharma as well as biotech products and services. Pune hosts hundreds of hospitals and healthcare centres and thus opens channels of interactions with thousands of doctors and allied healthcare experts who would be willing to take up value added services and products.

Purohit explains his point further, “Pune has a rich heritage of culture, but the areas like PCMC, Hinjewadi and other suburbs are now also home to many non-Pune residents. The pharma and biotech industries hence get an opportunity to make their offerings to a cosmopolitan population, and feedback from such population is very useful in scaling operations to a pan-India level. Pune, hence, can function as a statistically significant representative population of India.”

What sets Pune apart?

Comparison between Mumbai and Pune is imminent since the former is still considered a leading pharma hub. Both cities are not far away from each other and many companies have migrated from Mumbai or have offices in the city. One reason for this is that Mumbai is one of the costliest cities in the world and with each passing year it has become an expensive affair for entrepreneurs.

Purohit identifies areas where Pune scores over Mumbai. He says, “Manpower and administrative expenses for a company are lesser in Pune. Cost of living, and hence attrition rate with respect to manpower, is lesser in Pune. Density of population in Mumbai and Pune is not drastically different; hence ROI for marketing and sales efforts is almost equivalent to Mumbai. Group interactions such as conferences, group meetings, CMEs etc, are both economically and administration-wise easier in Pune as compared to Mumbai. Local travel time in Pune is lesser as compared to Mumbai, increasing the ratio of travel to client meetings.”

Even Jadhav echoes Purohit’s views adding few more points to the above discussion, “Biotech companies need large space for installation of manufacturing facilities and this large space is available in Pune. Moreover, weather is good almost all the months of the year.”

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Dr Abhay Jere

Pune has some of the globally known IT companies that have their interests in pharma and life sciences sector. Persistent Systems is a leading IT company specialising in software product and technology services. Giving the IT perspective of this debate, Dr Abhay Jere, Associate VP and Head-Persistent Labs, says, “Pune-based IT companies like Persistent, Cognizant, TCS, V-life Sciences are actively working with pharma companies and life sciences research institutions on R&D front especially in the field of drug discovery, formulation development, diagnostics, clinical trials and public health. Pune also has a large number of educational institutions offering courses in bioinformatics and biotechnology which have a huge stress on IT. Institutions like CDAC, Pune have dedicated research groups working in the field of life sciences and informatics. Considering the requirements of a matured ecosystem for pharma/ biotech/life sciences companies to thrive, Pune’s human resource in large number can work as an interface between IT and BT.”

Ground for growth

Pune is famously known as the vidyanagari of Maharashtra. As mentioned by experts before, availability of top ranked educational institutes was one of the magnets to attract pharma/life sciences companies to the city. Skilled and educated workforce ensures the survival of any industry.

“Pune has multiple options for technical training and research in pharma sciences. It hosts more than four universities, offering pharma education at all levels, from diploma to post graduation upto post-doctoral level. Moreover, most of the universities have been well recognised and hold good national and international ranking endorsed by government bodies such as UGC, India. In fact, research opportunities in pharma sector are much more by the virtue of research institutes, research projects being handled by scientists and publications in Pune. Hence, Pune may in fact prove to be a better location for pharma education standards,” opines Purohit.

In Pune, IT companies, educational institutes and pharma and life sciences companies are working together in a symbiotic way. For eg; Persistent Systems is collaborating with research institutions like NCCS, Pune, NCL Pune; IISER Pune and Maharashtra University of Health Sciences (Pune Regional Center) for conducting collaborative research in the field of life sciences/ biotech/ bioinformatics/ pharma.

Jere informs, “Pune has premier national institutions like NIV and NARI working in the area of public health and our company has collaboratively designed laboratory information management systems (LIMS) with these organisations which will be soon deployed across other organisations in India. Similarly, TCS research division which is based out of Pune is also collaborating with multiple research organisations based out of Pune.”

Pune’s gain, others’ envy?

The general perception is that the rising share of Pune in pharma and life sciences sector must have inflicted losses to cities like Mumbai. However, experts believe that this may not be the case. Migration of companies is a commonly observed phenomenon and as far as Mumbai is concerned, it is still the corporate headquarters for many reputed pharma and life sciences companies. However, the loss is in the jobs that these sites may be providing, had manufacturing continued here.

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Kapil Bhargava

Kapil Bhargava, Former Dy Drugs Controller (I) CDSCO and advisor to pharma companies in India, says, “The process of pharma manufacturing moving out of Mumbai started quite some time back, possibly 15-20 years ago. The large manufacturing sites were mostly of multinational companies. They did not find much benefit in continuing to be producing their products in sites in Mumbai. Mumbai always meant Mumbai-Thane. They were looking for sites outside Mumbai. Many of the sites were not Schedule M compliant in true sense and were thinking of going to new areas and making new plants instead of up-grading plant. Few have thought of moving to Pune, though not setting up their manufacturing sites, for manufacturing of their products at the sites existing there.”

He adds, “I recall the first-to-use Pune facility to make their products was probably Burroughs Welcome for their product ‘Ridake’ and later ‘Septran’ and the site selected was Emcure Pharmaceuticals. Soon after, other companies followed this trend and companies like Glaxo, Pfizer, Novartis and Ciba were getting their products manufactured in Pune.”

It is also to be noted that the big Indian companies did not move exactly to Pune, but to areas in the vicinity, such as Jejuri. Cipla set up its plant (formulations and API ) in Kurkumbh, Lupin and Wockhardt moved to to Aurangabad and the trend continued for locations within the vicinity of Mumbai.

Bhargava informs, “The medium sector continued for some time in Mumbai-Thane and set-up newer sites in industrial hubs such as Palghar–Tarapur, Dombivali and Ambernath areas, more so to meet the requirements of Schedule M. Exports were increasing and they wanted to demonstrate at-least good-looking manufacturing sites. Small scale players, which were operating in ‘industrial galas’ have to compulsorily move out of Mumbai for several commercial and social reasons.”

Besides globally acclaimed pharma and life sciences cities like Hyderabad and Bengaluru, Pune too is fast emerging as a preferred destination for companies in these sectors. Many eminent companies, who have their headquarters in different parts of the country, have set up their manufacturing plants in Pune. Apart from being a good talent pool of human resources from all across India, it is also a sought after location for many foreign professionals. Industry experts predict a very bright future for Pune as a pharma hub in the coming years.

sachin.jagdale@expressindia.com