K Anji Reddy: "I want to build a company that'd last 500 years"
As clichÃ©d as it may sound, passing away of K Anji Reddy marks the end of an era. Along with YK Hamied and Bhai Mohan Singh, Dr Reddy defined and built the Indian pharmaceutical industry that we know today.
â€œHe was a rare combination of a great scientist, entrepreneur, philanthropist and a humanitarian. Passionate about science, compassionate to the core and a true practitioner of giving,â€ says Dr GN Rao, founder of LV Prasad Eye Institute in Hyderabad, whose own philanthropic efforts at LVP was touched and amplified by Dr Reddyâ€™s help.
A first-generation entrepreneur who left a public sector job to start Dr Reddyâ€™s Laboratories in 1984, Anji Reddy took the word â€œLaboratoriesâ€ very seriously and pursued his passion of drug discovery till the end. He had set up a lab in his â€œgrape-gardenâ€ and would tend to it every day. â€œDrug discovery is like an addictionâ€¦everyday somethingÂ doesn’tÂ happen but the day you have a dramatic result, you feel that thereâ€™s something that could change the way people live. That gives you the real kick,â€ he said.
The last I spoke to Dr Reddy was in October 2012. I was writing this story on Ciplaâ€™s YK Hamied and wanted his perspective since he had started his business with projects from Cipla and had shared a relationship with Hamied that lasted 35 years. Even though heÂ wasn’tÂ keeping too well he agreed to chat. â€œTalking about Hamied is like having tonic, I feel good,â€ he said, with a hearty laugh. In fact, there was even a tinge of regret – Hamied was older than him but in much better health. â€œWhen we recently invited Dr Hamied to inaugurate our R&D Lab in Cambridge, he himself drove down from Londonâ€¦he is so healthy,â€ he said.
Dr Reddy had a fascination for drug discovery. In 1993, DRL became the first company to set up a dedicated R&D center and he recalled how within first 2-3 years he licensed three molecules to big pharma. Several years later and even after stepping down as chairman of the company, he remained passionate. â€œMaking one more generic drug doesnâ€™t give me any kick,â€ he said.
Once when he was traveling to London, cine star Amitabh Bachchan was in the same flight, who incidentally had a co-passenger who snored. The next morning, Bachchan came up to him and said, Â â€œDr Reddy, why donâ€™t you discover a drug for snoring.â€ Dr Reddy, who was moved by Bachchanâ€™s performance as an Alzheimerâ€™s patient in the movie Black, said, â€œI donâ€™t have a drug for snoring but I am working on a drug for Alzheimerâ€™s.â€
Dr Reddy put â€œhis personal moneyâ€ behind this drug research. It was supposed to enter phase I trial two weeks later. We hope the drug trial marches ahead but even if it fails, itâ€™d fulfill his dream of â€œfailing gloriouslyâ€.
“He was indeed very passionate about drug discovery and very proud of the many projects that the company had,” says Dr Rao. Â â€œHe always told us that scientists should never have to face resource constraints. He is one of the few Indian philanthropists who supported research with his personal funds.â€
Perhaps Dr Reddy understood that a solid R&D foundation can sustain a company for several generations by continually adding new products to the pipeline. He admired the book, â€œBuilt to Lastâ€ and wanted to nurture his company just like the American family built Merck. Â â€œI want to build a company thatâ€™d last 500 years, Merck is 640 years old,â€ he said. So serious was he about following Merck that when DRL struck a deal with the multinational for a monoclonal antibody, Dr Reddy hosted the head of the family of the 13th generation and got his own family to know the history of Merckâ€™s family organization.
In many ways, with DRL, Naandi Foundation and other charitable activities, Dr Reddy has left an enduring legacy. He was anguished by the muddled regulatory and legislative environment â€” from clinical trials to price controls. â€œThe industry that has brought so much recognition to the country is threatened every dayâ€¦â€
For an entrepreneur who “wanted to create a Merck in this country”, we hope the industry tribulations are just a passing phase!