Peptide Research and Indian Pharma Industry:
From the eyes Mr. Ram Isanaka
Indian Pharmaceutical Industry is one of the largest hubs for pharmaceutical manufacturing, but is lesser known for its unique drug research and development. Although the industry has no dearth of talent and expertise, what is lacking is the funding and scientific, focused approach to new drug research. As aptly mentioned by Mr. Ram Isanaka (ISSAR Pharma), the pioneer in peptide research in India, that Indian Pharmaceutical Industry has unmatched potential and bright future, provided we are ready to put our research funds on the right molecules and not in copying the existing ones.
The COVID pandemic brought about a huge interest in pharmaceutical companies, and were expected to invent solutions to combat the deadly virus. The Indian Pharmaceutical Industry did live up to the expectations, in the form of several home-grown vaccines and treatments. However, the Indian Pharmaceutical Industry has much more to offer. Hyderabad holds a special place on the Indian Pharmaceutical map and has an entire ecosystem that helps develop molecules that eventually move from the lab to the market.
This write-up is an excerpt from an interview with Mr. Ram Isanaka, Chairman and Managing Director of ISSAR Pharmaceuticals. He is regarded as the pioneer in peptide research in India, and has a fascination for new drug development, which is still thought a West thing.
The Roller-Coaster Adventure: Journey of Mr. Ram Isanaka
Mr. Ram Isanaka’s journey began in 1968 when he graduated and moved to the United States in 1970. He worked in US donning many hats- engineer, scientist, investor, etc. During the same time, he got involved with Shantha Biotechnics as a Promoter and Director, coordinating with US for technical support. The company became very successful company and made significant scientific contributions to India in the 80s and 90s. However, destiny had some other plans for him and the Indian Pharmaceutical industry. Mr. Ram moved to India to start ISSAR pharmaceuticals in 1995, with a relatively new technology, peptide-based drug development, which was not only new to India but also to the West. At that time and to this, very few have the courage to foray into new drug development, which is considered a big gamble in terms of investment of time and money, and the uncertainty of returns. It has almost been 25 years now since the company started and Mr. Ram has several New Chemical Entities (NCEs) to his credit. The company has conducted several clinical trials with one product already in the market, launched in 2004, for the treatment of Vitiligo.
ISSAR Pharma’s developments- An impressive portfolio and ambitious pipeline
ISSAR Pharma’s portfolio is unique and very ambitious for any research and development company. ISSAR pharma has developed a unique molecule that can expedite the wound healing process in burn wounds; this product is ready to be marketed. They have also conducted Phase-IV trials for a cancer drug. “A number of these accomplishments by us are unheard of”, says Mr. Ram Isanaka with delight. ISSAR Pharma has also licensed one molecule to an American company; the product is used in the treatment of psoriasis. Even USFDA was surprised that India was able to develop a new chemical entity for the treatment of burn wounds that even America does not have today.
They have molecules for different disease areas including psoriasis, sepsis and even COVID. Mr. Ram also discussed about a molecule they have developed for psoriasis with a unique mechanism of action and likewise several other molecules which they are looking to co-develop or license out.
However, Mr. Ram expressed that they require a lot of resources to do it, and being a small company they are unable to develop them on their own as they are not equipped with adequate resources. He explains that they have never experienced a failure in the past 25 years of their developmental work, and today they have about 70 molecules in their portfolio. Mr. Ram Isanaka happily informs that one multinational company has taken their molecule, filed it with the USFDA and willing to commercialize it in USA. They have also shown interest in ISSAR’s other molecules. Mr. Ram feels that this is only the beginning and is looking forward for more possibilities with other major pharma companies.
Insights on Potential of Indian Pharmaceutical Industry
Initially, the Indian Pharmaceutical industry was only known for modification of existing drugs. Now they have advanced into molecule discovery, making their own medicines and tapping onto the international markets. Mr. Ram mentions that new drug development is a time taking process which may cost about 1.6 billion dollars and approximately 10 years of time with a success rate of only 20-30%. This is one of the main reasons that most Indian pharma companies are targeting existing molecules or generic drugs so that they can reach the market within 1-2 years with a much higher success rate.
Mr. Ram elaborates that many companies are trying to develop a drug for the treatment for psoriasis and a lot of them have failed. Psoriasis is a disease which has no treatment, it can only be managed with certain modalities and its market value is about 25 billion dollars!
Speaking of the growth of the Indian pharmaceutical Industry, Mr. Ram expresses that the Indian Pharmaceutical must wake up to reality and spend enough money in Research and Development and move towards new drug development, as that is where the future lies! He believes that it is only a matter of time and India is capable of doing so.
Peptides: Mr. Ram Isanaka’s muse
Mr. Ram had always wanted to do something different, and that’s how ISSAR Pharma came into existence. He aimed to remain in a business that was unique and could serve as the future for the Indian Pharmaceutical industry. He always stuck to peptides inspite of receiving several offers to make generics even after starting ISSAR.
He finds peptides very fascinating. Peptides are made of amino acids, which are formed in our body. Therefore, any product made with peptides, is accepted by the body with very limited side effects. They can be reengineered and redesigned. “That is the beauty of peptides and peptides are the future” he adds. There are several peptides which are already existing such as insulin, some cancer drugs, and injections during delivery etc. It is just the fear of unknown, and the question of how and where to begin!
Education, technology and start-ups in the pharma industry
Mr. Ram strongly believes that people need to find something unique and different to add value to the society and country, in terms of education, technology or businesses. He agrees that there are very few institutions which focus on the needs of the pharmaceutical industries and there are no colleges which specifically teach peptide technology. According to his opinion, IIT is the only hope to come up with unique programs like these for new drug development, just like what they do for the IT industry.
Where does ISSAR pharma go from here? The road map laid ahead…
Explaining his aims and plans for the coming years, Mr. Ram Isanaka mentioned that they have developed 70 molecules, initially began with psoriasis, then cancer molecule, and now even the burn wound molecule is ready to be marketed. Other big molecules for sepsis, and COVID are also under development. He states that it requires lot of money and resources for further development. He plans to currently focus on one of them and see how he can make a difference in India, competing with the rest of the world.
Finally, Mr. Ram concludes that revolution in the Indian pharmaceutical industry has begun and now everyone will be concentrating on vaccines not only for COVID but other life threating diseases. He believes this is a good wake up call for the country and the pharma industry as a whole!