India to me conjures up thoughts of curry, cricket and call centers.  When I think about the Indian pharmaceutical industry, global manufacturers of generics such as Ranbaxy, Natco and Dr Reddy’s Laboratories come to mind.

AACR 2012 Annual Meeting Posters Piramal Healthcare

Photo: Pieter Droppert/Biotech Strategy Blog

What I don’t associate India with, is pharmaceutical drug discovery and the development of new drugs.

Pharmaceutical R&D is not only expensive, but requires a high-degree of expertise and comes with a high risk of failure.

Companies in the United States, Europe and Japan still develop most new drugs.

However, that may change in the future as the emerging economies in Brazil, Russia, India and China (BRIC) start to fund innovation and invest in drug discovery.

If we expect the economies of the BRIC group of countries to overtake the economies of the G-6 countries in the next 40 years, then it’s likely they will start developing their own pharmaceutical drugs.

Early signs of this were on show at the recent annual meeting of the American Association for Cancer Research (AACR) in Chicago.

Piramal Healthcare, part of an Indian conglomerate with $900 million of turnover in FY2011, presented four posters at the meeting on promising early-stage drug development compounds, including:

  • P7170, a Phosphoinositide 3-Kinase (PI3K)-mammalian Target of Rapamycin (mTOR) and Activin Receptor-Like Kinase 1 (ALK1) inhibitor.
  • P2745, an orally bioavailable molecule effective in imatinib resistant chronic myeloid leukemia cell lines including those with the T315i mutation.

P2745 is currently in Phase 1 drug development in India, and could be a potential competitor to Ariad’s Ponatinib in relapsed/refractory CML, given that it also inhibits the T315i mutation.

A few days after the AACR annual meeting, Piramal announced that they had acquired the molecular imaging portfolio of Bayer Pharma AG, including the rights to Florbetaben, a PET tracer for the detection of beta-amyloid plaque, a hallmark of Alzheimer’s disease.

The first presentation of the phase III trial results for florbetaben will take place tomorrow in the emerging science session at the annual meeting of the American Academy of Neurology (AAN) in New Orleans.

Piramal estimates the global market potential for PET imaging agents for Alzheimer’s disease to be $1.5 billion.

“We plan to build a promising portfolio in the pharma space, including our newly acquired Molecular Imaging assets, which will help us create a global branded pharma business”

said Ajay Piramal, Chairman of the Piramal Group in a press release.  The rise of the Indian pharmaceutical industry looks set to continue.