Shantha Biotech makes healthcare affordable

The office of Varaparasad Reddy, managing director and chief promoter of Hyderabad-based Shantha Biotechnics, has all the accoutrements of a family man. Lined on his desk are photographs of his mother, after whom he has named the company, his wife, two daughters and two grandchildren.

An electronics engineer from Osmania University, Varaprasad Reddy plunged into the brave, though difficult, new world of biotechnology in 1993 after exiting the family-owned electrical goods businesses, because he was convinced India needed its own manufacturers of affordable life-saving drugs than being dependent on the benevolence of expensive foreign producers.

A family man who loves music and hasam (humorous Telegu poetry), Reddy is an avowed socialist and says, " I am a Naxalite at heart." Reddy says he promised his mother that he would always keep in mind the needs of the poor when fixing the profit margins on his products.

Soon after the successful launch of Shantetra, an indigenous 4-in-1 combination vaccine that prevents diseases like diptheria, pertusis, tuberculosis and hepatitis-B Varaprasad Reddy talked to domain-b about the genesis of Shantha Biotechnics and its future plans.
By Mohini Bhatnagar

What made you set up a biosciences company since you did not have anything to do with the medical field?
The idea of setting up a life sciences company started in1992 after I attended a seminar abroad where I felt I was being looked down upon for being an Indian. There was a feeling among western governments that India and its other neighboring countries did not have the commitment to provide vaccination to their children and came with a begging bowl to them for subsidised vaccines. We were looked down upon as a nation for not being able to take any initiatives either for developing the vaccine or for importing it. I found this very insulting.

At the time the World Health Organisation had mandated that hepatitis-B should be incorporated into the immunisation schedule. The reason India could not incorporate hepatitis-B into the immunisation schedule was because of a serious foreign exchange crunch and hepatitis-B was a very costly vaccine.

It was priced at Rs780 per dose and three doses were required to be administered. For this reason the masses could not obtain the vaccine. When I approached a western company for technology, the company spokesperson told me that India did not have the resources to pay the high technology fee for buying the vaccine nor the ability to absorb the technology.