Biocon drug for emergency COVID-19 treatment can put India on global map: Kiran Mazumdar-Shaw

As Biocon secures DGCI approval for emergency use of its psoriasis drug in COVID-19 patients, Founder and MD Kiran Majumdar-Shaw says, ‘For the first time, we have an original Made-in-India drug that we will take to the world.’

Last week, Biocon Limited secured the approval of the Drug Controller of India (DGCI) to use Itolizumab (ALZUMAb), an anti-CD6 IgG1 monoclonal antibody that it launched in 2013 to treat chronic plaque psoriasis, for emergency use in COVID-19 patients.

And Kiran Mazumdar-Shaw, Chairperson and Managing Director of Biocon Limited, now India’s largest biopharmaceutical company, can’t stop exulting.

“I have always believed that a scientific bent of mind and research will make India great... People say Indians are not capable of innovating, but this is one drug that should put India on the map of innovators,” Kiran tells YourStory Founder and CEO Shradha Sharma.

Kiran Mazumdar Shaw, Chairperson and Managing Director, Biocon

The high COVID-19 mortality rate is attributed to a “cytokines release storm.” The virus induces antibody production and causes T-cells to trigger the release of cytokines in an uncontrolled manner. This storm causes autoimmune problems, shutting down organ systems and leading to death.

The DCGI approval allows ALZUMAb to be used for the treatment of cytokine release syndrome (CRS) in moderate to severe acute respiratory distress syndrome (ARDS) patients suffering from COVID-19.

Kiran says the drug, licensed since 2002 from Cuba, has great potential in treating autoimmune diseases, and has been used to treat psoriasis, rheumatoid arthritis, graft-versus-host disease, acute asthma, and lupus nephritis

“Once an ISRO scientist, who suffered from psoriasis for years, came up to me at an event and told me that ‘I want to thank you for transforming my life… ALZUMAb has changed my life’,” Kiran recalls. 

Watch the full interview of Biocon Founder Kiran Mazumdar-Shaw with YourStory Founder and CEO Shradha Sharma 

Earlier, many Indian doctors did not use the drug and relied on Western medicines to treat psoriasis. However, during COVID-19 treatment, the drug has shown enduring results among patients, reducing the cost of therapy.

“The reason we thought that this drug will actually work in COVID-19 is because we understand the science and the mechanism of action as the drug is an immunomodulator,” Kiran explains.

Making a difference

Kiran, synonymous with India’s biotech industry, started her biotechnology company in 1978 from her garage with a seed capital of Rs 10,000 at a time when there were hardly any women in this field.

Since then, the self-made billionaire has been recognised for her contribution to the world of medicine as an entrepreneur and innovative business leader in The Medicine Maker Power List 20 for six consecutive years since 2015.

Speaking about ALZUMAb, the biotech pioneer says the drug was tested in four hospitals in Mumbai and Delhi for COVID-19 treatment — Nair Hospital, KEM Hospital, LNJP, and AIIMS — and over 500 patients had already benefited from the medicine.

Kiran says ALZUMAb helps in decreasing inflammation in the lungs caused by the novel coronavirus, helping patients breathe without a ventilator or any other external support — a testimony provided by many doctors who used the drug to treat their patients. 

Many pharmaceutical companies such as Cipla and Glenmark have come up with their own drugs, including Fabiflu and Remdesivir, for treating COVID-19. However, Kiran believes the homegrown drug stands out as it is “changing the course of how we can save the lives of coronavirus patients.”

In fact, the drug, which has been used for treating graft-versus-host disease (common after organ transplantation), is now also in clinical trials for treating coronavirus in the US.

"I feel very proud that, for the first time, we have an original Made-in-India drug that we will take to the world. It’s about saving lives, it's about saving lives at a time when the whole world is helpless, and I am really happy that this drug is working’; it's making a difference. And I am really proud of the fact that this is an original and unique drug from India,” she says. 

Unfortunately, Kiran says prejudice among Indians has kept us from innovating.

“We have so much potential in the country. I see scientists and researchers in academics, but we don’t celebrate them. We don’t give them that opportunity to perform and innovate. There is so much negativity,” Kiran says.

(With inputs from Nirandhi Gowthaman)

Edited by Teja Lele Desai


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