Yusuf Hamied - Cipla

Love him or hate him, no one ignores Yusuf Hamied

Name: Yusuf Hamied
Title: Chairman and Managing Director, Cipla

Yusuf Hamied made his name a decade ago when he faced down Big Pharma on patents for HIV/AIDS drugs and Cipla started selling them at a cost of about $1 a day. His disdain for what he considers Big Pharma's "obscene prices" born out of monopolies is well documented. Hamied has the industry's rapt attention again with his new attack on cancer meds and his avowal that Cipla will soon take on biologics.

The company has won patent fights over half a dozen expensive cancer meds in the last 12 months, like for a generic for Roche's ($RHHBY) lung cancer drug Tarceva. "We are still finding our feet in bio. We will very shortly be making biotech products, and our intention is to sell them at affordable prices. We will take on Avastin, Herceptin and Enbrel," he said, mentioning three of the world's best-selling drugs during a telephone interview from his home in India.

Laud him or loathe him, and there are people at both ends of that spectrum, Hamied has become a conscience for an industry whose prices can seem unimaginable in countries where average annual incomes may be many times less than what some drugs go for. He insists that his company has never broken any laws in its attacks on patents, having his lawyers seek out and exploit "loopholes" that give Cipla the chance to make a generic of his targets. Along the way, Cipla has inspired other Indian companies, like Natco Pharma, which last year won India's first compulsory license from Bayer on the kidney cancer drug Nexavar. Natco has priced it at $175 a month, compared with Bayer's $5,550. Cipla then undercut that by charging $130 a month.

Hamied offers up as explanation this credo, "We sincerely believe that access to vital lifesaving medicines, at affordable prices, is a human right and that none should be denied medication. And this is something we do."

Toward that end, Hamied is now proposing a new approach sure to again raise the hackles of Western drugmakers. Instead of having to fight for compulsory licenses for lifesaving but expensive drugs, he is urging the government to pass a law giving its drugmakers "automatic license of rights" for certain medicines. These they would sell in India and other emerging countries but not export to developed markets. In return, they would pay patent holders a 4% royalty on net sales. Canada had the same law for 20 years before giving it up to join NAFTA, he said. "If it is good enough for Canada and nobody objected, why not for the Third World?"

If Big Pharma would come into these markets with reasonable prices, he says, Cipla would not come out against it. And what is reasonable in Hamied's eyes? "When you are in healthcare, you are saving lives. You have to have a humanitarian approach. You have to take into account what it costs to make and what people can pay. You do some soul-searching and you tell me."

He said that is Cipla's approach and it earns reasonable profit. At least enough to make Hamied a billionaire.

-- Eric Palmer (email | Twitter)

Yusuf Hamied - Cipla