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Derek Lowe The 2002 Model

Dbl%20new%20portrait%20B%26W.png After 10 years of blogging. . .

Derek Lowe, an Arkansan by birth, got his BA from Hendrix College and his PhD in organic chemistry from Duke before spending time in Germany on a Humboldt Fellowship on his post-doc. He's worked for several major pharmaceutical companies since 1989 on drug discovery projects against schizophrenia, Alzheimer's, diabetes, osteoporosis and other diseases. To contact Derek email him directly: Twitter: Dereklowe

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April 30, 2012

India's First Drug Isn't India's First Drug

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Posted by Derek

There have been a number of headlines the last few days about Ranbaxy's Synriam, an antimalarial that's being touted as the first new drug developed inside the Indian pharma industry (and Ranbaxy as the first Indian company to do it).

But that's not quite true, as this post from The Allotrope makes clear. (Its author, Akshat Rathi, found one of my posts when he started digging into the story). Yes, Synriam is a mixture of a known antimalarial (piperaquine) and arterolane. And arterolane was definitely not discovered in India. It was part of a joint effort from the US, UK, Australia, and Switzerland, coordinated by the Swiss-based Medicines for Malaria Venture.

Ranbaxy did take on the late-stage development of this drug combination, after MMV backed out due to no-so-impressive performance in the clinic. As Rathi puts it:

Although Synriam does not qualify as ‘India’s first new drug’ (because none of its active ingredients were wholly developed in India), Ranbaxy deserves credit for being the first Indian pharmaceutical company to launch an NCE before it was launched anywhere else in the world.

And that's something that not many countries have done. I just wish that Ranbaxy were a little more honest about that in their press release.

Comments (8) + TrackBacks (0) | Category: Drug Development | Infectious Diseases


1. John Spevacek on April 30, 2012 8:15 AM writes...

Honesty? Press release? Those two never go together. You can't get it from the ACS (and I can name examples for more than SpaceDino's), the RSC, or any of a number of University press offices, so why would you hope for it from industry.

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2. Anonymous on April 30, 2012 9:04 AM writes...

Ranbaxy said it 'develped' not 'discovered' the drug(s)

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3. Derek Lowe on April 30, 2012 9:22 AM writes...

You have to read the press release pretty carefully to pick up on that, Anon, and the press hasn't been doing a good job of that. Here are some quotes from the release:

Arun Sawhney, CEO and Managing Director, Ranbaxy said, “It is indeed gratifying to see that Ranbaxy’s scientists have been able to gift our great nation its first new drug, to treat malaria, a disease endemic to our part of the world. . ."

“This is a historic day for science and technology in India as well as for the pharmaceutical industry in the country. Today, India joins the elite and exclusive club of nations of the world that have demonstrated the capability of developing a new drug.” added Mr. Sawhney.

Heralding the arrival of the new drug, Dr. Sudershan Arora, President-R&D, Ranbaxy, said. "The new drug, which will be marketed first in India, is developed as a fixed dose combination consisting of arterolane maleate 150 mg and piperaquine phosphate 750 mg drug, in line with WHO recommendations. It is among the best options available today. I applaud the success of R&D at Ranbaxy in the creation of this New Age Cure for Malaria and am sure that innovative drug products will continue to be developed at Ranbaxy-R&D labs, even in the future."

The press release makes no mention of MMV.

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4. Yali Friedman on April 30, 2012 9:32 AM writes...

Thanks for the clarification. I published a study a few years ago ( on the global locations of drug development. I was surprised to find exceedingly low representation among Indian and Chinese researchers. More surprising was that the legacy pharma countries remain essentially unchallenged.

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5. RM on April 30, 2012 10:52 AM writes...

While the chemical entities comprising Synriam weren't first made in India, there's certainly an argument to be made that "the drug" (that is, the combination of the two) was developed in India, so when they refer to "first new drug", they could be referring to the combination, rather than the individual components. (Is Vytorin one drug or two?)

Although I agree it looks like they're trying to claim credit for more than reality might permit them.

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6. CMCguy on April 30, 2012 11:35 AM writes...

Even though agree this may be hyperbolic in certain interpretations of the story is it that different than all the "new products" launches proclaimed by Big Pharma the last few decades that included a good proportion of reformulated or combinations of existing drugs? Wasn't there more effort involved in doing this than the pathway to market another Generic? Seems to be a step in the right direction to build foundations for them working on future products that may be "truly" innovative and therefore need to recognize the commitment this has shown and not so much trivialize because took a less risky route to introduce a new drug.

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7. leftscienceawhileago on April 30, 2012 2:50 PM writes...

The press releases certainly make it difficult to tell that it was "only" developed in India, but I regularly see the same tricks being played (more egregiously in fact) in press releases from venerable scientific institutes in the US.

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8. Akshat Rathi on May 2, 2012 5:26 AM writes...

Thanks for linking to my story, Derek. Thought you might find this Synriam brochure ( by Ranbaxy interesting. On page 26 it mentions the name of the discoverer of arterolane in a tiny footnote. And funnily enough, this brochure has not been linked to from Ranbaxy's press release.

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