Vinit Shah,

Chairman & Managing Director,

Saga Lifesciences Limited

“We are still facing challenges in the availability of raw materials and transportation of goods. The majority of APIs are not available, or if they are, prices have gone up dramatically.”

What is the history of Saga Lifesciences Limited, previously Saga Laboratories? Saga Lifesciences Limited is a group company of Saga Pharmaceuticals established by me in 1981. It was then converted to Saga Laboratories in 1986 and now converted to Saga Lifesciences Limited in 2019.

We were one of the first small sized manufacturing plants in India to obtain WHO GMP certificate. We encountered several challenges regarding registration and inspection from different countries. The blend of our technical competence, rich experience and business skills made it possible for us to make our company visible in international market.

How are you entering the regulated markets now? Following the initial learning process, the next step was to set up a new manufacturing facility that complied with the requirements of the regulated markets. It took us around 6 to 7 years to be fully ready to serve the regulated markets. An important breakthrough came in 2017, when we obtained the EU GMP certificate. Currently we export to about 40 countries around the world, including Canada, Australia, the UK and Europe. Our top markets are the Philippines, Vietnam, and Central American countries like Honduras, Nicaragua and El Salvador. Currently, 90% of our turnover comes from exports.

What are the main therapeutic areas you cover? We are mainly into analgesics, antibiotics, anti-bacterials, cardiovasculars, anti-diabetics, anti-fungals, anti-malarials and many more. We do export a lot of anti-malarials to African countries. Our plan moving forward is to increase our focus on the regulated markets and continue pushing our market penetration in the developing markets as well. Registration process is already going on in another 12 to 15 new markets. We have tied up with several customers and have many projects on hand to develop products for U.K, Australia and Canada. Our most immediate objective for 2020/ 2021 is to make these products available in the aforementioned markets. After that, our target is to develop three or four major generic molecules for the U.K. and the entire European market.

What levels of growth are you experiencing and how is your business being affected by the coronavirus crisis? In last quarter of financial year 2019-20 COVID 19 started in China. This seriously paralyzed availability of APIs in India and from 22nd of March, all of India was under lockdown. Despite of the fact that in entire last quarter of 2019-20 the business volumes couldn’t be achieved, we recorded 25% growth in the last financial year.

For financial year 2020-21, April and May will probably be lost. We are still facing many challenges in the availability of raw materials and transportation of goods. Our work force is also not available and the ancillary industries are almost not working. The majority of APIs are not available, or if they are, prices have gone up dramatically. Our biggest concern at this point is logistics. Cargo flights are not operative, ships are not moving, freight charges have sky-rocketed and transit time has been unpredictable. Having said all this, once COVID-19 situation improves, we are sure to achieve remarkable growth because we have a huge backlog of orders. Despite such challenges we are extremely confident to exceed our growth plans even in current financial year.

Could you tell us about your R&D efforts? We aim to develop some innovative formulations. We are working on newer concepts to develop some modified release products, developing new concepts in packaging and have several other projects on hand. We have already developed products with different release patterns, instant release patterns for faster effect of the drugs etc; we have also developed a formulation containing a tablet inside capsules to ensure better stability of the ingredients.

Why is Gujarat such an important hub for the pharmaceuticals industry worldwide? Gujarati entrepreneurs are born businessman, have high business acumen, very high risk-taking capabilities, astute business skills and stick to very high standards of business ethics. This makes them very successful in business.

The success of Gujarat in pharmaceutical business can be attributed to availability of a good number of highly skilled and experienced pharmacists because of easy access to pharmacy education. Gujarat has around 80 pharma schools. Additionally, Gujarat has one of the best infrastructures, excellent connectivity, and a very vigilant FDA department. Easy availability of raw materials, skilled and semi-skilled work force, ancillary industries, favorable government policies etc. are the other key factors that help proliferation of pharmaceutical manufacturing units in Gujarat.

All put together there is very conducive and congenial environment for the functioning and growth of the pharmaceutical industry. Currently, many new pharmaceutical projects are being set up in Gujarat. The state has become a global hub for pharmaceutical manufacturing.