India's Pharmaceutical Machine Manufacturers: From Imitation to Innovation

Apr 02, 2007

Indian pharmaceutical machine manufacturers (IPMMs) are exceptional among their foreign counterparts. Historically similar to the Chinese with regard to copycat practices, patent infringements, and substandard quality, the IPMMs have made great strides in innovation and collaboration to break free from the shackles of this paradigm.

"If you have a product which is replicable, scalable, and does not require after-sale support or customization, then you cannot compete with the Chinese. But if you are talking about pharma machines, then it is just common knowledge that you need the necessary customization or after-sales support and documentation for operating and maintenance. This is where Indian pharma machine manufacturers have the advantage of fluency in English and greater technology-orientated skills," declares Vishesh Parekh, committee member of the Indian Pharmaceutical Machine Manufacturers Association (IPMMA) and managing director of INCOME Ltd.

The IPMMs' industry has shown significant activity, mainly during the last five years. IPMMA reports that the industry generates nearly $500 million of turnover, 40% of which comes from exports to countries around the globe. There are more than 350 facilities in India's pharmaceutical-machine manufacturing industry, in categories like instrumentation and process control, lab equipment, pharma research and development (R&D) tools and techniques, pharmaceutical machinery, packaging material and machines, plant design and engineering, pharmaceutical process technology, and software.

"We were being taken for a ride, so we formed the IPMMA to unify into one voice," recalls Vishesh Parekh. "We were getting higher prices from exhibition and event organizers, and our common needs as IPMMs were not being addressed. Then, after getting together frequently, we saw that we shared many of the same concerns and could make a difference in promoting the interests of our own industry." Established in 2001, the IPMMA has unified 200 companies in the sector with a common goal of establishing and exchanging knowledge resources and keeping its members updated on global trade and technological developments. The IPMMA believes it has contributed greatly to the success of the industry during the past five years.

Much of the experience and technical expertise found in the industry was gained through defense contracting. Hamis Shahani, Director of Klenzaids Contamination Controls, Ltd., explains, "Through the 1970s and 1980s, India was heavily trading with [the] Soviet Union and Germany, manufacturing defense equipment and chemicals for their military and anywhere they went. This is where much of our exports during that period were going." Hamis Shahani later described India's need for trading with the West, "The revenue model generated by the pharmaceutical industry at the time [late 1980s] mandated growth and required Indian industry to build more and better facilities. Once we started building facilities of sizeable scale, we required the latest technology. That's when we started farming out to the West for better technology, in return providing them with low-cost manufacturing."

Klenzaids's history and development is a strong testament to the specialized level of experience and knowledge Indian companies have acquired over the years. Starting as a manufacturer of clean-air tents for missile-launch systems, the company today has a project for the turnkey design and contracting of a maximum containment laboratory of Bio Safety Level-4 in India. "Only five such laboratories exist on Earth: four in America and one in Canada. One of them in the United States is at the US Army Military Research Institute for Infectious Disease (USAMRIID) in Fort Dietrich, Maryland, where they keep the smallpox virus. This will be the only place in India where dangerous substances and primate testing in Phase 3 and Phase 4 can be conducted, not to mention become India's Center of Biological Warfare and Intelligence," Shahani explained.

In building such a microbial-containment complex, India has taken a step further toward attracting international R&D business. Combined with existing clinical research and testing organizations in India, this facility, commissioned by the Indian Council of Medical Research, will provide a greater range of specialized services necessary for high-value drug discovery and development.

IPMMs are rapidly specializing, like the pharmaceutical industry, as needs for high value-added services and products increase. Electrolab's director, Amit Marfatia, describes how the company made a niche for itself with testing equipment, "Kadila Pharma in Ahmadabad originally showed me a dissolution tester and asked if we could make one. A dissolution tester gauges how much drug is available to your body from a pill. In two years, we reengineered and developed one that delivered better accuracy."