Sun Pharma founder Dilip Shanghvi heads this year's list of Asian pharma billionaires

Money

Who are the world's richest billionaires? According to Forbes' latest list, 22 people with pharma interests made the top 500, and Asian drug magnates are among them: four from India and one from China.

Topping the list of the Asian pharma elite is India's Dilip Shanghvi, who founded Sun Pharmaceuticals along with partner Pradeep Ghosh in 1982. The company's acquisitions of Caraco Pharma, Taro Pharma and, more recently, fellow Indian company Ranbaxy Laboratories have made Sun Pharma into India's largest drugmaker.  

Shanghvi stepped down as chairman and CEO of the company in 2012, but he remains managing director, as well as chairman of Sun Pharmaceutical Advanced Research, which is spearheading the group's push into proprietary medicines. His $16.7 billion fortune ranks him at number 44 in the overall Forbes list. 

In second position among Asia's pharma rich is Cyrus Poonawalla, chairman of the Poonawalla Group, which includes Serum Institute of India, India's largest biotech company, which specializes in manufacturing pediatric vaccines. 

Poonawalla set up Serum Institute of India in 1966, at a time when lifesaving vaccines were in short supply in India, and those were imported at high prices. The company has since grown to become the world's largest vaccine producer in terms of the number of doses produced and sold globally. With a net worth of $8.5 billion, Poonawalla sits at position 133 in the Forbes list.

Desh Bandhu Gupta claims third place, with a $5.5 billion fortune that puts him at number 233. He is founder and chairman of generics maker Lupin, which he set up in 1968, hoping to alleviate a chronic shortage of drugs to treat tuberculosis--at the time the leading cause of death in India.

Under Gupta's leadership, Lupin has expanded at a fast pace, thanks to a string of international acquisitions, and the company now claims to be the seventh-largest generic drug company in the world by market capitalization. It is the second-largest pharma company in India, but is currently struggling with production woes that have led to multiple product recalls.

Staying among the Indian pharma magnates, Zydus Cadila group's managing director and chairman, Pankaj Patel, takes the number four position, with a personal fortune of $3.5 billion that places him at 453 among Forbes' top 500. 

He took the helm of Zydus Cadila--currently India's sixth-largest pharma group--in 1995. The generic drugmaker recently became active in the emerging biosimilars market, launching a version of AbbVie's Humira in India. Lately the company has been struggling with manufacturing problems, including FDA warning letters for noncompliance with quality standards.

Finally, Chinese scientist and businessman Sun Piaoyang makes it into the top 500 at position 477 this year. He was a worker for the state-run Lianyungang Pharmaceutical Factory before it was reorganized and renamed Jiangsu Hengrui Medicine, and he became chairman of the company in 2003. 

Jiangsu Hengrui has developed into a major supplier of generic pharmaceuticals, mainly serving China's domestic market. But lately it has started expanding internationally, including investing in U.S. immuno-oncology startup Hengrui Therapeutics. Sun Piaoyang's net worth is currently estimated at $3.4 billion.

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