Glenn Saldanha – Innovating to thrive
When Glenn Saldanha took over at the helm of Glenmark Pharmaceuticals in 1998 it was a Rs 80-crore, India-focused drug maker. He has transformed Glenmark since then. The company, founded by his late father Gracias Saldanha, now employs 11,200 people in about 80 countries and reported sales of Rs 6,006 crore in 2013/14.
That growth, like in the case of most Indian drugmakers, was driven primarily by generic drugs , or copycat versions of drugs discovered by companies in the developed markets. But Saldanha has been charting a different course. He is among the few in India who is betting big on basic drug discovery. “The branded generic business, ultimately, is a commodity business,” he says. “The end goal has to be innovation. You have to be innovative in the long run to survive as a pharmaceutical company.”
About Glenn Saldanha
So, while most Indian drugmakers today talk of copycat biotech drugs called biosimilars being the future of medicine, Saldanha is focused on novel biologics, or innovative biotech drugs. By March 2015, he says, Glenmark will have four novel biologics, including one that can be used in oncology, in clinical development. “This is a landmark both for Glenmark and for India,” he says, adding that no other company has done this out of India so far.
Saldanha says biosimilars is a good opportunity but “the regulatory pathway in this segment is not clear in the US and we are not sure how Big Pharma will respond”. He also feels that there is excess capacity in biosimilars and that it is expensive to develop such products as each could cost between $50 million and $70 million.
Saldanha attributes much of his approach to business to his training in the US. After graduating in pharmacy in Mumbai, he went to New York University’s Leonard Stern School of Business for MBA. In the US, he first worked with Eli Lily where he was one of the brand managers for Prozac, the best-selling anti-depressant. He then moved on PricewaterhouseCoopers where, as a consultant, he worked with Rhone Poulenc Rhorer, Bristol Myers Squibb, and SmithKline Beecham.
“You have to be innovative in the long run to survive as a pharmaceutical company”
Saldanha, whose role model is the late Apple Inc co-founder Steve Jobs, says the biggest challenge he faced was the lack of funds to invest in innovation. “To deal with this we came out with the outlicensing model where we would partner with big pharmaceutical companies, give them rights for the developed markets and keep some rights for emerging markets,” he says. Glenmark, says Saldanha, is the only Indian company following this model successfully and has earned $230 million through outlicensing. In May 2011, it announced a deal with French drug major Sanofi for a molecule to treat Crohn’s Disease and other inflammatory conditions such as Multiple Sclerosis. Glenmark got $50 million as upfront payment. The total payment could touch about $613 million if it meets certain milestones.
Adiyta Khemka, senior analyst at Ambit Capital and who has earlier worked at Glenmark, says the company has over the years steadfastly held on to its belief that innovation is the way forward. “If you look at the last five to six years, the company has actually lagged its generic competitors simply because its focus is more on being an innovation company rather than a hardcore generics player,” he says. “Given its size, Glenmark spends the most on innovation R&D and if I were to put my money on who among the leading Indian pharma companies will be the first innovator on a global scale and put their product in markets of the US and Europe, it would probably be Glenmark.”
Saldanha has a clear way ahead for the company. “I can give you a 10-year road map and that is to transform Glenmark into a innovation-led organisation with 30 per cent of revenues coming from innovative products,” he says.
While so far research and development activities have been taking much of his time, Saldanha also has other priorities. His focus today is also on managing to grow the main revenue generating generic-drugs business. “It is always a balancing act between short-term priorities and long-term goals,” he says.
Spending quality time with his family is another priority. He spends a couple of hours every day with his family, especially his two daughters, and to play badminton. He eschews a flashy lifestyle and believes it is important to be humble. “Humility keeps you grounded. It is critical to be grounded because life has ups and downs. While it is easy to scale up, it is very hard to scale down. You have to be ready for the worst and for that you have to have humility and a modest lifestyle.”