From brewing to biologics: Biocon’s Kiran Mazumdar-Shaw transforms global health

Author:Catherine Jewell
Position:Communications Division, WIPO

Kiran Mazumdar-Shaw started out as a Master Brewer and now heads up Biocon, India’s largest innovation-led biopharmaceutical company. Ms. Mazumdar-Shaw talks about what it takes to establish a multi-billion dollar global business that is transforming global healthcare and the part played by intellectual property.


Can you tell us how you came to set up Biocon?

I graduated as a Master Brewer from the Ballarat Brewing School in Australia in 1975. My aspiration was to pursue a professional career in brewing. I was unprepared for the hostility and gender bias I faced from the brewing industry in India. This rejection saw me turn to entrepreneurship and, quite by accident to set up a biotech start-up, Biocon, in India, where I leveraged my knowledge of fermentation to produce enzymes and biopharmaceuticals instead of beer.

Was it plain sailing from there on?

No! As a 25-year-old woman with no business experience and limited financial resources, I faced huge credibility and perception challenges. In those days, women were not perceived as good entrepreneurs and biotechnology was unheard of as an industry. I dared to start a business in a male-dominated society and in a sector no one knew. The prevailing business ethos favored low-risk ventures based on services and generic drugs and was averse to risk-ridden, innovation-led businesses like biotechnology. Banks were reluctant to lend me financial support. I struggled to recruit people as professionals feared I could not provide “job security”. Suppliers told me they were unwilling to give me credit because they had no confidence in my business abilities. I succeeded against these odds because I understood that all challenges can be surmounted with perseverance and ingenuity.

What prompted you to move into the field of biopharmaceuticals?

Having attained success in enzymes, I used my knowledge of biotechnology to try and disrupt the healthcare industry by introducing affordable biopharmaceuticals for patients who needed them the most. These drugs, known as biologics, are developed from living biological sources, such as tissues, cells and proteins. Indeed, biosimilars are to biologics what generics are to proprietary chemically-synthesized drugs. What spurred me on this mission was the realization that a significant proportion of the world’s population does not have access to essential medicines and, where healthcare does exist, it is unaffordable. From wanting to “green the world” through eco-friendly enzyme technologies, my mission changed to “heal the world” by developing affordable life-saving drugs for patients across the globe.

Today, Biocon is India's largest, fully-integrated, innovation-led biopharmaceutical company. Our commercial footprint covers 120 countries. We invest up to 15 percent of our biopharmaceuticals business revenue in R&D. In terms of market share, our capacity to manufacture high-quality, affordable biologics puts us among the top three global biosimilar players for insulin. Up to March 31, 2017, we reported revenue of over USD 600...

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