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We are becoming more of a solutions company: Kieran Murphy

Economic Times:  July 19, 2016

New Delhi: GE and Pfizer recently teamed up to build a $350-million biosimilars manufacturing facility in China.

Conceptualised as a "factory in a box", the unit will have prefabricated, disposable components and take about two years less than traditional units to go on stream. In an interview with ET, the CEO of $4-billion GE Healthcare Life Sciences, Kieran Murphy, discusses how drug makers are adopting modern ways of building "flexible factories". Edited excerpts:

Where does GE fit into in the business of biotech-based drugs?

We provide complete solutions for the life sciences industry. We have something called flex factories, which are becoming popular in India. 

Flex factories are units which provide everything from a bioreactors and vessels which contain cell culture media to the filtration units and the downstream chromatography processes, which is where we have a strong reputation to allow people to purify their product. We are becoming less and less of a product company and more of a solutions company. 

How do you build a flex factory? 

This concept has a huge demand in India. It is an entire manufacturing train which can be fitted into a room, and includes bioreactors, filtration units, purification units - all within a closed space, and because the system is entirely made of disposable components, which is made of stainless units, it can contain plastic disposable components where a (production) batch can be run for two weeks and the entire thing can be disposed. 

The next day the plastic container can be replaced and a new product can be made. These systems are becoming common in the US, Europe, Singapore and a few other countries. Be it Singapore or a location in Europe, flex factories are identical, maintain same standards. 

How do you plan to grow this concept, considering the surge seen in biosimilar drugs in India?

The Indian infrastructure for pharmaceuticals has an incredible experience base of handling complicated products. Some of the best pharmaceutical entrepreneurs in the world are Indians. The key ingredients are in place.

India needs to speed up on the biosimilars programme. Korea has made significant investments in biosimilars, with large production bases. China is in the process of catching up, and there we have just announced working with JHL Biotech (the Pfizer deal was signed more recently). In China, the pharmaceutical industry is tuned in to what China is likely to need as we go into the next decade. 

There is no question that starting point that India has on the entrepreneurial experience and the management base is the best. There is a big race for capacity creation in China and India should speed up and not get left behind. 

Are Indian companies picking up the idea of building flex factories?

We are speaking to many customers who have expressed significant interest. In biosimilars, flex factories are end-to-end and best applied to gain speed of building and the flexibility. 

Typically, flex factories need a third of the running cost of a normal site. They are highly productive and fast to install, making them popular. It is simply 'put a factory in a box'. We are the leaders but we do have competitors.

Afew global drug makers have raised questions about the quality of Indian biological drugs and the local approval processes. Your view on this? The toolkit available to an Indian or Korean or Chinese or European manufacturer is the same. The basic fundamentals are the same, and so there is no reason why India cannot create for itself a set of standards that are going to allow it to produce for the global markets. 

It will need to demonstrate that it is applying the standards with the rigor in the way the global markets expect. There is a good track record for Indian pharmaceutical industry as the biggest producers of drugs in the world. 

Disclaimer: This information has been collected through secondary research and IBEF is not responsible for any errors in the same.