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The World’s Pharmacy…India needs to stand firm on patents


There are many well-known addresses around the World: 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue (where Donald Trump hopes to rest his head next January) and, of course, 7 Race Course Road (where Mr Modi expects to remain in residence after this year’s elections)…but how about 91 Upper Circular Road, Kolkata? Never heard of that one…well, you’d be forgiven if you hadn’t. In its own humble way, though, 91 Upper Circular Road is just as much a seat of radical change as its more famous counterparts because that’s where a certain Prafulla Ray set up shop in 1892: founding the Bengal Chemical Works with seed capital of $3,400 in today’s money. Never heard of that either…well, again, not to worry, but you may have heard of the company it morphed into in 1901: the Bengal Chemical and Pharmaceutical Works (or, snappier still, BCPW).

In 1908, one of those stiff-collared administrators so common across the Raj wrote sniffily, and with more than a hint of condescension, that BCPW “shows signs of resourcefulness and business capacity, which should be an object lesson to capitalists of this province”…and how right he was.

By 1949, Prafulla Ray had built four major factories across the Subcontinent, from Kolkata to Mumbai, and he was making money hand over fist: steadily establishing what was to become the beating heart of India’s modern pharmaceutical sector, and that sector currently generates annual revenues in excess of $38 Billion (quite a return on an initial investment of $3,400). It’s also a striking testament to the vitality, enterprise and raw chutzpah that has paved the way for India to become the fifth biggest and fastest-growing large economy on the planet.

The World’s Pharmacy

There are now more than 3,000 pharma companies and 10,500 related manufacturing facilities on the Subcontinent (www, producing drugs at roughly a third of the cost of US Corporates, and half the cost of European Pharmas. Small wonder then that India has become known as “the World’s Pharmacy”. It produces 62% of the World’s vaccines (including lifesaving COVID prophylaxis) and 20% of vital (because they’re cheaper) generic drugs for distribution to economically distressed territories, including Sub-Saharan Africa. Without India the life chances of people living in those territories would be radically impaired…in short, and to put it bluntly, more people would die or suffer debilitating, life threatening illnesses without Indian involvement.

And we’re not just talking about vital overseas relief here: generic drugs are also supplied by India to the NHS (25% of them, to be precise), and without those supplies, UK health services would be even more financially stretched than they are at the moment.

A Step Backwards…or maybe not

Bearing those points in mind, it’s surprising to hear those modern-day UK administrators (the inheritors of those stiff collars from the Raj) are now trying hard to undermine India’s ability to produce generic pharmaceuticals, but that’s exactly what’s being argued as part of the ongoing round of Free Trade talks with the Subcontinent. 

India can (and does) refuse to recognise a drug patent if public health needs require the drug be made available as a generic: the stiff collars in Whitehall want that gateway removed, and they also want to prevent NGOs and medical professionals (including those working in Sub Saharan Africa) from challenging new pharmaceutical patents before they’re granted, or opposing extensions on those already in place. And let’s be in no doubt what that means for those in global need: before the Subcontinent started producing generic drugs at scale, individual HIV treatments cost $100,000…now (thanks to India), those same treatments cost less than $100 a year. We simply can’t afford to go backwards…

The UK’s position on this is extremely difficult to justify and seems to reflect little credit on its negotiators …they’d certainly struggle to convert Prafulla Ray to their cause.

Red Ribbon Asset Management

India has been at the heart of Red Ribbon Asset Management ( for more than a decade, shaping its successful investment strategies in conjunction with an unparalleled knowledge of the Subcontinent’s economy, delivering higher than average investor returns and looking after the Planet and People in the process.

Executive Overview

We can’t afford to ignore global health needs…however you dice it up: equality, simple fairness, and international engagement require nothing less. That, in a nutshell, is why India needs to stand firm against taking a harmful step backwards.

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Red Ribbon Asset Management ( aims to harness the full potential of fast evolving and emerging technologies to meet the needs of global communities as part of a circular economy, fully recognising the compelling demands of planet people and profit.

Suchit Punnose

Suchit Punnose / About Author

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