22 Jan 2021 18:10 IST

Cipla’s early cure for self-reliance

The pharma company has kept its promise to make India self-sufficient in healthcare for over 77 years

The company started with the founder’s bold assertion, ‘Never again will India be starved of essential drugs,’ still stands tall by its claim. It is the third largest pharmaceutical firm in India today. The story goes that in the 1920s, the founder Khwaja Abdul Hamied’s father wanted his son to become a lawyer and sent him to the UK by ship for the same. But Hamied had a hankering for chemistry and somehow ended up in Germany, from where he brought back to India, a Jewish wife, a degree in chemistry, typewriters, sewing machines, and ‘Okasa Silver’ and ‘Okasa Gold.’






The last-mentioned items were erectile dysfunction drugs, for which Hamied had licensed the formulation from Germany. It is said that the money from the sales of these drugs provided the capital for starting ‘The Chemical, Industrial and Pharmaceutical Laboratories’ in 1935, renamed as Cipla in 1984. It is headquartered in Mumbai, India.

Accessible care

Mahatma Gandhi, Sardar Patel, and Dr Sushila Nayar visited Cipla Global in 1939   -  Source: Cipla Archives Twitter


K A Hamied was an ardent follower of Mahatma Gandhi — reportedly one of the reasons the family stayed on in India after partition — and was influenced by him to produce generic drugs, which would be affordable to the common man for malaria, TB, diabetes, arthritis, cardiovascular, and respiratory diseases. In 1941, following the Mahatma’s advice, the company also delivered medicines to Rangoon during the war.


Dr Y K Hamied with his father Dr K A Hamied   -  Source: Cipla.com




The following two decades saw the construction of an R&D centre, new laboratories and manufacturing plants. The founder’s son Yusuf Hamied joined the company in 1961. By the end of the decade, Cipla’s turnover had crossed ₹1 crore.

K A Hamied passed away in 1972, but his altruistic vision to make all drugs accessible and affordable to the common man remained Cipla’s aim. The real challenge and subsequent breakthrough occurred the same year, when Cipla started manufacturing a drug called Propranolol. The patent for this was held by a US company, which protested immediately, citing patent laws. Yusuf Hamied is said to have convinced the then-Prime Minister Indira Gandhi to change the Indian patent law of 1911 to cover only the manufacturing process of a drug and not the drug itself.

This meant that the same drug (any drug) could be manufactured by anyone by using a different process and be sold at a cheaper rate. While Yusuf Hamied was fulfilling the wish of his father, the law proved to be a boon for the growth of the indigenous pharmaceutical industry in India. In 2005, India fell in line with international patent laws.

Pioneering attempts

By 1991, Cipla’s turnover had crossed ₹100 crore; it had also become the first company in India to get USFDA approval for four bulk drugs. In 2000, it produced the world’s first CFC-free budesonide inhaler. More pioneering attempts followed. 2001 was a landmark year — Cipla promised and delivered a triple drug combination called ‘Triomune’ to fight HIV and AIDs, at a fraction of the cost of the drugs multinational pharma companies offered.

In 2017, it launched Synchrobreathe, a ‘breath-actuated inhaler’ for people with obstructive airway diseases. In the sale of inhalers, Cipla ranks second in the world by volume. In 2019, it forayed into digital therapeutics with Wealthy Therapeutics in India and Brandmed in South Africa. The same year, it introduced strawberry-flavoured HIV drugs for just $1 a day for infants.

In July 2020, Cipla launched ‘CIPREMI’ — the generic version of the anti-viral Covid 19 drug ‘Remdesivir’ (under license from Gilead Sciences). Its revenue crossed ₹17,000 crore in 2020, with the respiratory section contributing over 22 per cent.





Today, Cipla manufactures medicines for respiratory, urology, cardiology, anti-infective, anti-retroviral (where it is reportedly the world’s largest supplier) and other medical conditions — about 1,500 products in 65 therapeutic categories, available in over 50 dosage forms. These are manufactured at 46 manufacturing sites around the world, all of which are state-of-the-art cGMP (current Good Manufacturing Practice) compliant facilities that conform to national and international norms. Its products are supplied to over 80 markets worldwide. Over the last 50 years, it has offered over 200 generic and complex Active Pharmaceutical Ingredients or APIs to some of the world’s largest pharma companies.

Social responsibility

On the environmental front, Cipla draws over nine per cent of its energy needs from renewable resources. Its manufacturing facilities have zero liquid discharge (ZLD) waste water treatment facilities. They use more than 70 per cent recycled water.

It is but natural for a company that began with the aim of making India self-sufficient in pharmaceutical medicines to take its CSR responsibilities seriously. The ‘Cipla Palliative Care and Training Centre’ set up in 1997 in Pune provides free, holistic care to terminally-ill cancer patients and their families. The Cipla Foundation has contributed funds to education, medicine, and frontline healthcare workers in various ways. The company has also stepped in to assist affected people during natural disasters such as the Cyclone Amphan with food supplies. It has also started a ‘Caring for Life’ Covid-19 dedicated fund.

In fact, Cipla is the proud recipient of the Golden Peacock Award for Corporate Social Responsibility (2019). The same year, it received the ‘Most Outstanding Company in India – Healthcare category’ at the Asiamoney Asia’s Outstanding Companies Poll. Many other awards have come its way. The awards cover all categories — leadership, marketing, management, supply chain management, employee communication, employee satisfaction, security, financial reporting, distribution practices, health care, social media activity, and website layout.