As clichéd 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.
“He 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,” says Dr GN Rao, founder of LV Prasad Eye Institute in Hyderabad, whose own philanthropic efforts at LVP was touched and amplified by Dr Reddy’s help.
A first-generation entrepreneur who left a public sector job to start Dr Reddy’s Laboratories in 1984, Anji Reddy took the word “Laboratories” very seriously and pursued his passion of drug discovery till the end. He had set up a lab in his “grape-garden” and would tend to it every day. “Drug discovery is like an addiction…everyday something doesn’t happen but the day you have a dramatic result, you feel that there’s something that could change the way people live. That gives you the real kick,” he said.
The last I spoke to Dr Reddy was in October 2012. I was writing this story on Cipla’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 he wasn’t keeping too well he agreed to chat. “Talking about Hamied is like having tonic, I feel good,” 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. “When we recently invited Dr Hamied to inaugurate our R&D Lab in Cambridge, he himself drove down from London…he is so healthy,” 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. “Making one more generic drug doesn’t give me any kick,” 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, “Dr Reddy, why don’t you discover a drug for snoring.” Dr Reddy, who was moved by Bachchan’s performance as an Alzheimer’s patient in the movie Black, said, “I don’t have a drug for snoring but I am working on a drug for Alzheimer’s.”
Dr Reddy put “his personal money” 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, it’d fulfill his dream of “failing gloriously”.
“He was indeed very passionate about drug discovery and very proud of the many projects that the company had,” says Dr Rao. “He 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.”
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, “Built to Last” and wanted to nurture his company just like the American family built Merck. “I want to build a company that’d last 500 years, Merck is 640 years old,” 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 Merck’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 — from clinical trials to price controls. “The industry that has brought so much recognition to the country is threatened every day…”
For an entrepreneur who “wanted to create a Merck in this country”, we hope the industry tribulations are just a passing phase!