The year 2018 marks the 50th anniversary of Lupin. However, that celebratory sunshine was clouded by the passing of its founder, Desh Bandhu Gupta, a few months ago, as well as a sharp financial decline after years of growth. But Desh Bandhu’s daughter, Vinita Gupta, Lupin’s CEO since 2013, has a plan ready to steer the company back onto the growth track.
Even today, Vinita can still remember the first time joining her father on a business trip to Switzerland when she was 14. “It was very inclusive. We would talk about the opportunities [of getting into new areas] and I, as a teenager, felt there’s nothing better I can do in the world than to take his foundation and try to build a company globally,” Vinita recalled during a recent interview with FiercePharma. She would later take that ambition to work, armed with an MBA from Northwestern University's Kellogg School of Management.
Vinita played a key role in Lupin’s globalization through a series of acquisitions that established its footprint across geographic and therapeutic areas.
The first window opened in 2003, when Wyeth, now folded into Pfizer, stopped marketing antibiotic Suprax. Up till then, Lupin had been trying to get into the U.S. market with the active ingredients business but hadn’t been successful. So Vinita took it upon herself to come up with a new strategy.
Her original plan was for the company to work on a portfolio of finished generic products based on the APIs because “vertical integration was important from a supply chain standpoint as well as cost perspective,” and then over a four- to five-year time frame build capabilities to enter the brand side, she recalled. But then Suprax came along and gave Lupin an opportunity to enter the brand front early.
Seizing the chance was apparently only the first step to success. “In the first year, all my assumptions were challenged,” Vinita said. She had expected that physicians would soon start writing prescriptions once Lupin relaunched the well-established product and had devised an aggressive plan accordingly. But the reality was that physicians had already started shifting to competing drugs from Big Pharmas like Abbott, Bristol-Myers Squibb and GlaxoSmithKline.
Vinita took notice of the challenge, returned to her drawing board and soon optimized the marketing tactic to focus Suprax on the niche urinary tract infection indication. In the third year, the venture became profitable and would later outgrow what Wyeth had, with a sales force only a quarter the size of Wyeth’s.
Almost 15 years later, the U.S. market contribution to Lupin’s top line has grown from 5%, when Vinita first moved to the U.S. in 2005 a year after the Suprax relaunch, to about 40%.
“My biggest personality trait that has helped me is I’m an eternal optimist—this is when I believe in something I put all my effort in making it happen. I don't get rattled by challenges,” she said. “I also adapt pretty quickly, which helps me switch gears when needed.”
That business agility and belief in Lupin’s expansion into the U.S. are needed again at Lupin—but this time, it’s not just one product, but the entire business is at stake.
Lupin started an international M&A spree spearheaded by Vinita with the purchase of Japan’s Kyowa Pharma in 2007 and has since gone into South Africa, Australia, Germany, the Philippines, Mexico and Brazil. But perhaps the most memorable buy was the 2016 acquisition of U.S. firm Gavis Pharmaceuticals for $880 million, which was at the time the largest deal by an Indian pharma in the U.S.
But soon the opioid crisis slammed the brakes on controlled substances, only to be compounded by pricing and competitive pressure on the generics front, both key components of the Gavis business, now called Lupin Somerset. For the fiscal year that ended in March, Lupin’s sales turned south, posting a 9.1% decline to Rs 155.6 billion (about $2.15 billion), and it took a $227 million impairment on Gavis.
Answering the call for a new strategy, Vinita is repositioning Gavis to focus on areas that she thinks could ensure mid- and long-term growth momentum for Lupin. These include complex generics, especially women’s health products, as well as specialty drugs.
Outside of Gavis, it’s déjà vu for Vinita. Just like how it brought back Suprax when it entered the U.S., Lupin has just reintroduced ex-Novartis postpartum hemorrhage drug Methergine. Last year, it also bought New Jersey company Symbiomix Therapeutics and got hold of bacterial vaginosis fighter Solosec.
Several big companies have left women’s health; Teva and Allergan both just sold their franchises. And that's left an opening for Lupin. “You don't have many companies that are focused on the area anymore, and therefore innovation in the category has come down significantly, investment has come down, which I thought was an opportunity for a company like ourselves,” Vinita observed.
Getting the right products to build a differentiated portfolio is part of Vinita’s job; spotting the right talents is another. And Vinita says the latter lesson is the most valuable one she learned from her father.
“That is something that I have really integrated in my own management style. … First spotting the right talent, bringing in the right capabilities in the organization, and then working with them to ensure that we create an environment where they can contribute the best.”
Vinita said she sees more and more opportunity for women in the biopharma industry today, but that’s still not enough, especially from what she sees at the very top in Big Pharma companies. Lupin itself has multiple female board members, and perhaps in a rare case throughout the industry, now both its chair and CEO are women.
For those looking to enter the industry, Vinita said: “I always tell them that there’re very few industries that allow you to build the value while making a real difference, whether it is through affordable medicines or lifesaving medicines or innovative medicines. … That's a real blessing and you have to love it.”