Indian-born leader in the pharmaceutical sector seizes every opportunity to achieve his goals
Bay Area to get into tech,” said Singh.
“At that time, Bayer came to the campus with an internship in Cambodia,” he said, referring to the German pharmaceutical giant.
Although he was born in India, Singh grew up in the US, which most people at the time perceived as “the very center of the world”.
However, he is now based in Singapore. And his career did not start in North America but in Southeast Asia, which was unusual at the time.
Few people who grew up in the US moved away from their hometowns, let alone out of the country, he said.
“I was excited at the opportunity as I asked myself ‘ how many times would anybody get his first job that far away?’ So I took the job with Bayer.
“I left everything in the US and moved to Cambodia. That is how I stepped into healthcare.”
That first job was only a one-month internship, but it was a chance to work with one of the world’s leading pharmaceutical manufacturers.
For Singh, the position opened a door into an industry that touches the lives of everyone and fills a real need in society. He was not even 21 years old at that time.
“When you walk into a hospital, there is a long line of patients and you (may) see somebody who is really unwell. All they hope for is that the doctor is great and the medicine they take is great,” said Singh.
“There are many instances I know of, particularly in the emerging countries, where a whole family relies on one person who can chip in. When I got to see all these cases, I realized that there was nothing better for me to do. So, I never left healthcare.”
In the years that followed, Singh worked for some of the largest drugmakers in the world, including Bayer and Abbott, until he joined the privately held Mundipharma in 2011.
Since then, the company has grown incredibly fast, expanding 459 percent in the last five years. Mundipharma has not only expanded its geographic footprint during this period, but also diversified its product portfolio.
To achieve this, Singh applied his “opportunistic” philosophy.
“Besides extensive preparation work, including research and business development building, what really matters is that we never say no to any opportunity. We have no pre-assumptions. Instead, we evaluate it and we take risks.”
In 2011 the company had three core medicines, all painkillers. It now has a portfolio of 38 medicines in six categories.
“We are very opportunistic. We go after categories that do not appear to be sexy, like diabetes and cardiovascular, but where there is huge unmet need,” he said.
“For example, (areas such as) ophthalmology and consumer healthcare. Five years ago, or even nowadays, everybody talks about oncology, liver cancer drugs or lung cancer drugs. But there are tons of side effects that oncology drugs have, like vomiting and no appetite to eat,” he said.
“We saw that sweet spot and decided to focus on oncology support care. Gilead Sciences started with HIV and moved to other areas and now have the largest market cap,” Singh noted. “I see Mundipharma exactly at the same place, going after the niche areas and creating uniqueness.”
The goal is to not only provide more products but also tap into more markets. Mundipharma now operates in more than 120 markets, more than a fivefold increase in five years. Singh’s region generates around half a billion dollars in revenue, up from just $65 million in 2011.
And the way he sees it, Asia is the catalyst to the company’s huge success.
“There has been a tremendous shift in healthcare over the past two to three decades in Asia because there have been lots of revolutions in terms of demographic profiles and lifestyle,” he said.
“In Southeast Asia, for example, along with the economic growth, there is more disposable money in people’s pockets and hence they can spend on healthcare more freely than before.”
In October 2011, Mundipharma made the decision to use Singapore as its hub, not only for Asia but for the whole emerging world, which includes Latin America, the Middle East and Africa.
“It was my decision to step into Singapore. Of course, I love the environment in Asia, but the reason I chose Singapore is because it is close to China. My first goal in 2012, to get Asia back on track, needed China,” said Singh.
In contrast to other developing countries in Asia, such as India, he noted that China is much more “optimistic, pragmatic, and serious” about managing its healthcare system.
“First and foremost, China protects patents, which means the country respects innovation and can in turn boost the R&D side of pharmaceutical products,” Singh said, referring to research and development.
Also, China believes in providing universal healthcare with a national drug-reimbursement list, he added.
“For comparison, in India, the expenses are mostly from patients’ own pockets.
“When you have a system like this, the quality of the product gets compromised as price becomes the main driver in the market. So a lot of cheap medication is available but it is not necessarily the right medication in India.”
For the time being, however, India is equally as favorable as China for overseas drugmakers. And Singh believes India will emerge as the next huge opportunity in the region.
India should open the door wider to multinationals, he believes, to encourage both growth and innovation.
Raman Singh says China is serious about managing its healthcare system.