How this serial entrepreneur is bridging the gap between academic and commercial research in the pharmaceutical industry
By 1999, Maharukh T Rustomjee, who had spent a decade and a half in the corporate world including in companies like Piramal Healthcare, Tata Pharma laboratories, and Novartis, was bitten by the entrepreneurial bug. She joined a small company that was marketing pharmaceutical and specialty chemicals to understand how small companies operate.
“I did not have an MBA nor came from a business family,” she tells HerStory. A first-generation entrepreneur in the family, Maharukh had a Master’s degree in pharmacy from the Institute of Chemical Technology in Mumbai.
After a brief six-month stint, she left the company in May 1999, and founded Rubikon Research, which provides high quality research services for big and small pharma companies, and went on to raise a round of funding in 2007.
It has now grown to a 350-member team and claims to be the first company in India to offer formulation development services on contract.
After heading operations and developing a range of patented technologies and products in the pharmaceutical delivery space for more than a decade, Maharukh took a sabbatical of two years and eventually left the company in 2016.
"But I was still young in my fifties and definitely could not retire after working 24/7 like you do as an entrepreneur. During the sabbatical, I went back to the Institute of Chemical Technology, started working there with the students and professors, and also wrote a book on pharmaceutical development at the time," she says.
Now, through her research and consulting company– her second entrepreneurial venture – she is tapping into multiple avenues of pharmaceutical business.
Juggling research and consumer market
Maharukh knew she wanted to continue research work and solve scientific problems and so, set forth on a mission to bridge academic work confined in universities and commercial research. "The research done in academics is often path breaking but very difficult to translate into commercial research, and monetise,” she says.
At Amaterasu Life Sciences, she is leveraging research expertise to solve critical medical as well as lifestyle problems. With a couple of PhD candidates at the Institute of Chemical Technology, she is working on several projects developing unique injections for malaria and Alzheimer's disease.
While these are yet to be licensed to enter the market, the research work is ongoing, and the team has even secured a grant for Rs 50 lakh from Biotechnology Industry Research Assistance Council (BIRAC) to develop solutions for malaria.
On the other hand, Maharukh has developed patented skincare technology and introduced four anti-chafing products under a sub-brand called SkinEasi, sold through its website and marketplaces like Amazon.
These products address specific friction-induced skin chafing and other problems that treat and protect skin from rashes commonly experienced by runners and swimmers as well as rashes caused by bra strap, sanitary napkin, friction in inner thigh, among others. Widely used by runners in Mumbai, Maharukh hopes to create offline brand awareness in other cities, beginning with Kolkata.
"These are especially problematic in India as it is a tropical land with both humidity and heat. And we are using makeshift solutions like bandaid tapes or moisturising gels or coconut oils," Maharukh says, adding that SkinEasi products were developed after talking to consumer groups, dermatologists, and after thorough research.
The road ahead
As Maharukh is consolidating Amaterasu’s place in the D2C space, she says it may eventually branch out as a separate company. India’s skincare market, valued at Rs 129.76 billion in 2020, is expected to grow at a Compound Annual Growth Rate (CAGR) of 8.22 percent. Despite established and upcoming brands in the market, Maharukh says most are focused on beauty and cosmetics while SkinEasi’s products are solving specific problems.
When it comes to her research and consulting business, the entrepreneur hopes to forge more partnerships and look after licensing of its pharmaceutical developments to enter the market.
Maharukh advises aspiring entrepreneurs to have clarity on what they want to do and why, then assess the market and their unique offering in it.
As a woman entrepreneur in a niche field, she urges women to have self-confidence.
“Because even today, it is easier for male colleagues because women shoulder more responsibilities at home. Decide what is critical for your family and children, insist on doing that and delegate the rest. At the end of the day, you have to do justice to your family but also your work,” she signs off.
Edited by Anju Narayanan