The ‘opportunist’

In­dian-born leader in the phar­ma­ceu­ti­cal sec­tor seizes ev­ery op­por­tu­nity to achieve his goals

China Daily (Canada) - - PEOPLE -

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.

PRO­VIDED TO CHINA DAILY

Ra­man Singh says China is se­ri­ous about man­ag­ing its health­care sys­tem.

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