Herbal tea maker turned ma­jor Malaysian generic drug­maker is poised to find a treat­ment for stroke

China Daily (USA) - - PEOPLE - By ALEXAN­DRA WONG For China Daily

While ev­ery phar­ma­ceu­ti­cal player hopes to dis­cover the next won­der drug, in re­al­ity it takes decades and huge in­vest­ments to cre­ate a block­buster prod­uct.

Hence, to sug­gest that a generic drug man­u­fac­turer in South­east Asia could pro­duce the world’s first treat­ment for stroke raises eye­brows. After all, even big pharma com­pa­nies have failed to achieve this.

But that is ex­actly what might hap­pen if David Ho Sue San, man­ag­ing di­rec­tor of Hovid, wins a phar­ma­ceu­ti­cal claim for to­cotrienol, a palm-sourced vi­ta­min E com­pound that has shown pos­i­tive neu­ro­pro­tec­tive prop­er­ties in lo­cal clin­i­cal tri­als.

There is cur­rently no spe­cific treat­ment for stroke. So, should Hovid ob­tain from the United States’ Food and Drug Ad­min­is­tra­tion (FDA) the cov­eted recog­ni­tion for To­covid — the com­mer­cial form of the vi­ta­min E com­pound — as a novel drug, a bil­lion-dol­lar mar­ket could po­ten­tially open up for the com­pany.

Hovid’s head­quar­ters are on the out­skirts of Ipoh, the cap­i­tal of north­west­ern Perak state. It has been Malaysia’s largest generic drug ex­porter over the past 30 years.

Typ­i­cal of generic drug­mak­ers, Hovid does not ad­ver­tise or brand its prod­ucts. It does, how­ever, sell 400 prod­ucts in more than 40 coun­tries and owns 1,500 mar­ket au­tho­riza­tions world­wide — a feat that very few phar­ma­ceu­ti­cal play­ers in Asia can match.

Hovid’s ori­gins date back to a tra­di­tional herbal tea cre­ated by Ho’s fa­ther, Ho Kai Cheong, a Chi­nese sin­seh (tra­di­tional herbal­ist). The herbal tea helped tin min­ers over­come flu in post­war Malaya.

Orig­i­nally sold from a road­side stall, the 24-in­gre­di­ent bev­er­age, named Ho Yan Hor — mean­ing ‘ev­ery­body can have good health’ in Can­tonese — be­came a house­hold name in Malaysia, Sin­ga­pore and Thai­land.

In­spired by his fa­ther’s pas­sion for health­care, Ho pur­sued a de­gree in phar­macy.

While work­ing as a re­search phar­ma­cist at Wyeth Phar­ma­ceu­ti­cals in the United King­dom, his fa­ther asked him to take over the busi­ness.

“Then in his 70s, my dad could no longer man­age the busi­ness on his own. I thought it was a pity to let a 40-year-old her­itage go,” Ho re­called.

Ho Yan Hor was a sin­gleprod­uct busi­ness with turnover be­low 1 mil­lion ring­git ($234,000) when Ho joined in 1980.

To ex­pand the prod­uct line, Ho mooted the idea of en­ter­ing the generic drugs mar­ket, as he had the man­u­fac­tur­ing ex­pe­ri­ence and the com­pany could af­ford to pur­chase a siz­able land bank.

Soon, Ho Yan Hor was re­born as Hovid — an amal­gam of the fam­ily sur­name and Ho’s first name.

With prof­its from Ho Yan Hor’s modest turnover and a small bank loan as cap­i­tal, Ho set his sights on ex­pan­sion.

One of his first tasks was to repack­age the com­pany’s flag­ship herbal tea.

He in­vested in an au­to­matic pack­ing line, and the decades-old prac­tice of sundry­ing tea leaves made way for a mod­ern dryer.

On the pharma front, rather than fight do­mes­tic and for­eign in­cum­bents in cap­i­tal-in­ten­sive large ther­a­pies, Ho fo­cused on generic drugs with unique for­mu­la­tions and dosages.

Com­pe­ti­tion was less in­tense in this seg­ment, and Ho had an edge due to his ex­pe­ri­ence. Hovid en­tered the Malaysian phar­ma­ceu­ti­cal mar­ket with film-coated an­tibi­otics.

“The stan­dard sugar-coated tablet would take 10-20 hours to process. Film-coated tablets are faster to pro­duce (and save cost). But there were no film-coat­ing ma­chines then,” Ho said.

His ex­pe­ri­ence at Wyeth had taught him how to achieve the same out­come us­ing a sug­ar­coat­ing machine. This led to the com­pany’s first ma­jor ten­der win.

Hovid’s com­pe­tency in for­mu­la­tion and test­ing led to patented tech­nolo­gies in drug-de­liv­ery sys­tems, an­tibi­otics in dis­persible tablet form, film-coated anal­gesics and soft­gel cap­sules, and ef­fer­ves­cent tablets.

In 2016, Hovid spent 45 mil­lion ring­git on a pro­duc­tion fa­cil­ity in Ipoh, adding to its two ex­ist­ing plants.

With au­to­mated stor­age and re­trieval sys­tems, the new cen­tral­ized dis­tri­bu­tion cen­ter han­dles a higher vol­ume of stocks with more ef­fi­cient in­ven­tory man­age­ment and dis­tri­bu­tion.

“We ex­pect it to in­crease tablet and cap­sule pro­duc­tion by 30 per­cent. Ad­di­tion­ally, it meets the higher cGMP (Cur­rent Good Man­u­fac­tur­ing Prac­tice) stan­dards … for us to pen­e­trate the Aus­tralian, Euro­pean and Amer­i­can mar­kets in the fu­ture,” Ho said.

The com­pany’s lat­est crown jewel is the Pe­nang-based Attest Re­search. The bioe­quiv­a­lence (BE) cen­ter con­ducts hu­man clin­i­cal tri­als on generic prod­ucts to prove their bi­o­log­i­cal equiv­a­lence to the orig­i­na­tor prod­uct.

Tra­di­tion­ally, clin­i­cal tri­als are out­sourced to ded­i­cated BE cen­ters or hos­pi­tals.

As of last year, Hovid’s de­vel­op­ment pipe­line in­cluded 137 prod­ucts, in­clud­ing over-the­counter and pre­scrip­tion drugs, di­etary sup­ple­ments, tra­di­tional reme­dies and dis­in­fec­tants, cos­met­ics and food prod­ucts.

“BE cen­ters are unique in South­east Asia. Hovid has the dis­tinc­tion of be­ing the only

Then in his 70s, my dad could no longer man­age the busi­ness on his own. I thought it was a pity to let a 40-year-old her­itage go.”

phar­ma­ceu­ti­cal man­u­fac­turer in Malaysia to have its own BE cen­ter,” he said.

A key fac­tor in Hovid’s suc­cess is Ho’s shrewd as­sess­ment of mar­ket economies. One good ex­am­ple is the com­pany’s dom­i­nance in Africa.

In the 1980s and 1990s, when Hovid’s Malaysian ri­vals were fight­ing for the lo­cal mar­ket, Ho fo­cused on Africa. This was long be­fore the sup­port­ing data to con­firm the con­ti­nent’s mar­ket po­ten­tial was pub­lic knowl­edge.

Con­sul­tancy McKin­sey & Com­pany val­ued Africa’s phar­ma­ceu­ti­cal in­dus­try in 2013 at $20.8 bil­lion, up from $4.7 bil­lion a decade earlier.

“I could see that the growth in US and Europe was slow­ing down and the mar­ket was sat­u­rated. Asia is very com­pet­i­tive and un­pre­dictable; find­ing sus­tained growth is tough,” Ho noted.

“Un­for­tu­nately, or for­tu­nately, African coun­tries have never had a ‘dragon’ or ‘tiger’ boom or bust. They just grow qui­etly but steadily. Last year, Ethiopia’s growth was 10 per­cent.”

Today, 60 per­cent of the firm’s ex­port rev­enue comes from more than 20 coun­tries in Africa.

Since Hovid went pub­lic in 2005, Ho’s own­er­ship in the com­pany has been pro­gres­sively re­duced. But he is un­likely to let go any time soon, given that he is on the thresh­old of a break­through for to­cotrienol.

More than 10 com­pleted and on­go­ing clin­i­cal stud­ies con­ducted in col­lab­o­ra­tion with higher learn­ing in­sti­tu­tions sug­gest sev­eral unique ben­e­fits, in­clud­ing neuro-cells pro­tec­tion and re­duc­tion of stroke-in­duced in­juries.

Some of the re­sults have been pub­lished in lead­ing peer-re­viewed jour­nals, such as Stroke and Nu­tri­tion Jour­nal.

By virtue of Malaysia’s po­si­tion as the world’s big­gest source of palm oil, from which to­cotrienol is ex­tracted, Hovid sits on a vir­tual gold­mine. Still, there is a long way to go be­fore the com­pany hits this sweet spot.

Sold as To­covid in around 30 coun­tries as a di­etary sup­ple­ment, to­cotrienol can­not claim to pre­vent, treat or cure ill­nesses with­out FDA cer­ti­fi­ca­tion.

“We have a lot of work to do in terms of ad­dress­ing reg­u­la­tory ap­proval, clin­i­cal stud­ies and con­sumer aware­ness,” Ho said.

A clue to Ho’s mo­ti­va­tion may be found in the Ho Yan Hor Mu­seum, which he opened last year to doc­u­ment how a hum­ble tea stall evolved into one of Malaysia’s most valu­able phar­ma­ceu­ti­cal com­pa­nies.

Phar­ma­ceu­ti­cals and herbal tea may seem worlds apart, but as they say, the ap­ple does not fall far from the tree.

“I share the same ideals as my fa­ther. Like him, I hope to bring some­thing of my own in­ven­tion that can give the world bet­ter health,” Ho said.


David Ho Sue San has a shrewd as­sess­ment of mar­ket economies. One `ex­am­ple is his com­pany’s dom­i­nance in Africa.

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