Biogen dips toe in Indian waters

By Emilie Reymond

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags: Biogen idec

US-based biotech firm Biogen Idec has decided to enter the booming
Indian market and establish its presence in the country.

The company opened a small office last month which employs 10 people at the moment in order to assess the potential opportunities in India, Jose Juves, director of public affairs at Biogen told "In the short term, it will be more of a information gathering strategy to meet with potential partners, Indian companies and regulatory bodies to evaluate what the needs and capabilities are,"​ explained Juves. The firm has not made any official announcement as the project is still in its early stage but Biogen is confident it will be able to identify potential new partnerships and collaborations with different Indian companies. According to Juves, until now Biogen had very little presence in the country. The firm markets its two top-selling drugs in India under two distribution deals: MabThera (rituximab), known in the US as Rituxan, through Roche's Indian subsidiary; and Avonex (Interferon beta-1a) through an agreement with Nicholas Piramal. "India seemed interesting for us for several reasons,"​ said Juves. "Firstly, in the long run it is a potentially very strong market, secondly, it has a very high quality of pool of talent, and thirdly it is an advantage for us to be on the ground to possibly partner with local firms, be it on an research or clinical development level." ​ Biogen is already running clinical trials in India, and is interested in reaching further into this lucrative market. "There is concern over intellectual property (IP) issues for us and for all the biopharma companies entering the Indian market, but India is at a transition point and we will be keeping our eyes on how the situation develops,"​ said Juves. Financial details of the investment were not disclosed. Biogen's move comes just two months after drug giant Novartis announced it would pull a multimillion dollar investment out of India in reaction to IP fears. In November last year, the firm announced plans to splash €90m in the country to establish a large new R&D centre. The Swiss drug heavyweight made an agreement with the Andhra Pradesh government in India to buy 150 acres of land in Hyderabad to build a new research facility along with an IT backup centre. According to reports at the time, this was to be the largest foreign investment in an R&D facility in India and would create 5,000 new jobs. The decision to pull out came in the wake of the Novartis' defeat in an Indian court earlier this month in an ongoing patent dispute with the government. It has been fighting India's patent office over the IP on a new version of its leukaemia drug Glivec (imatinib). In its ruling to deny the firm patent protection, the court stated that the new version only displayed "incremental innovation"​ and therefore did not qualify for additional IP coverage. Meanwhile, Indian biogeneric firms have made the headlines these past few weeks as more of them are targeting the lucrative follow-on biologic market - a potential threat for biologic innovators like Biogen. Most recently, India's second biggest pharma company Dr Reddy's said it was planning to launch one biosimilar every year in the next few years. According to local media, the firm has eight follow-on biologics in the pipeline and is investing up to $30m to build a manufacturing facility in Hyderabad, India, which is expected to be completed by 2009. The drug company was also reported to say it is in talks with European regulators to launch its biosimilar Reditux - a follow-on version of Rituxan - in Europe. Rituxan is co-marketed in the US by Genentech and Biogen. The drug is used as a treatment of Non-Hodgkin's Lymphoma (NHL).

Related topics: Clinical Development, Drug Delivery

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