- IIL started out making vaccines for cattle to aid the White Revolution
- It now makes many vaccines and limits profits to a modest 10 per cent
When the cow is in the news mostly for the wrong reasons, an Indian company based in Hyderabad gives us a reason to smile. Indian Immunologicals Ltd (IIL) turns out to be a subsidiary of the National Dairy Development Board. The latter of course was started by the “milkman of India” Verghese Kurien. As Operation Flood, with the aim of turning India into a milk surplus nation, stunned all with its success, the NDDB realised it was spending a fortune on cattle vaccines. In the ’80s, one dose of vaccine cost Rs 14 (equivalent to about Rs 350 today). The NDDB decided to set up IIL, its own vaccine manufacturing subsidiary, in 1982.
Having obtained technology from the UK, IIL started making vaccines to tackle foot-and-mouth disease in cattle. Thirty-four years on, it offers a single dose of vaccine for Rs 7.60, half the price at which the vaccine was sold by MNCs in 1982. As IIL’s deputy managing director Dr K. Anand Kumar explains, “If you want quality milk, you need healthy cows. It is this motto that soon led IIL to become the world’s largest producer of this vaccine—with an annual capacity for 360 million doses. “The central government does not give us any preferential treatment. We compete with other private manufacturers but our high technology processes and the economics of scale make us winners,” explains Dr Kumar.
Then, in 1998, an enthused government asked IIL if it could develop an anti-rabies vaccine for humans and the scientists jumped at the chance. They started a plant in Ooty in 1999 and today, IIL has garnered 60 per cent of the rabies vaccine market, which was earlier dominated by multinationals.
If a vaccine of foreign make is sold for Rs 300, IIL’s is in the Rs 200 range. IIL also makes vaccines for DPT, hepatitis-B and tetanus. For these too, the price difference seems almost too good to be true. “A DPT vaccine manufactured by IIL costs Rs 4.50 a dose, while one from a leading MNC costs Rs 1,000,” says Dr Anand Kumar. Scientists privately agree that if it were not for IIL, vaccine prices would have shot up sharply. With a turnover of Rs 485 crore in the last financial year, IIL only makes a marginal profit of 10 per cent. “We are not greedy for profits, they are a byproduct of efficiency,” is the mantra all IIL employees chant.
IIL has 60 scientists who are currently working on vaccines for hepatitis-A, chikungunya and dengue. One of the primary ingredients in animal vaccines is bovine serum. Earlier, IIL was coughing up large sums for obtaining bovine serum from New Zealand and Australia; it has now set up its own facility in Dargville, New Zealand. The initial investment may have been high but IIL’s exports to South East Asia, Africa and CIS nations are worth some Rs 45 crore, which helps offset losses.
When it began operations in the ’80s, Gachibowli was a “jungle”. Spread over 213 acres in the IT zone of Hyderabad, it is difficult to guess that the low-key IIL has the largest human and animal vaccine manufacturing site in Asia.
“Considering our low profits, I would say our business itself is CSR, but we do conventional CSR as well,” says the deputy managing director. IIL’s top management, including Dr Anand Kumar, spends a lot of time in villages. “I was once zapped seeing a yellow cow. Its owner enlightened me that he had smeared it with turmeric to fight off foot-and-mouth disease. He knew nothing of vaccines,” a scientist recalls. Lessons on cattle care apart, IIL’s biggest achievement in a madly competitive and profit-hungry industry is to make immunity available for cheap.
By Madhavi Tata in Hyderabad