- Hamied stepped down as the MD in 2013 after four decades at the helm.
In the three minutes that Dr Yusuf Khwaja Hamied was given to speak at European Commission’s roundtable conference in Brussels in September 2000, he stunned the world. His company Cipla, he said, was ready to offer a generic triple drug combination to treat HIV/AIDS at $800 per person per year. This, when the prevailing price charged by the multinational drug companies was around $12,000 at the time. The help from the ‘third world’, which Hamied represented, came at a time when the enormity of the HIV crisis, especially in the least developing parts of the world, was still unravelling. Hamied also offered technical knowhow to developing countries who wanted to produce their own HIV drug.
A few months later, Cipla was to offer the antiretroviral triple-drug cocktail ‘Triomune’ to Médecins sans Frontières at less than $1 per patient per day, a feat that made global headlines. The drug has reached more than eight million Africans, he would say years later. Hamied’s defiance of big pharma made the world sit up and take notice. In his own words, it changed the world and it changed Cipla, the company his father Khwaja Abdul Hamied set up in 1935. But that wasn’t the first time he’d done that.
Hamied studied at Cambridge University, completing his PhD in organic chemistry under Nobel laureate Alexander Todd in 1960 and then headed back home to join his father’s company. That’s when he came face-to-face with India’s British-era patent laws that were restricting local drug manufacturers. He, along with peers, played a key role in forming the Indian Drug Manufacturers Association and lobbied for patent law changes in India, which finally came through in 1972, ushering in a ‘golden’ era for the Indian pharma industry.
“I’m not against patents, I’m against monopolies,” Hamied, 80, has told many an interviewer. Indeed, as the Indian pharma fraternity notes, his has been a strong voice against the creation of drug monopoly in healthcare. In 2013, after four decades at the helm of Cipla, Hamied stepped down as managing director to pave the way for a professional management team even though he continues on the Board as non-executive chairman. In his own words, it’s all about balancing business with a humanitarian view.