Majeed is a globetrotter. As founder of $25-million New-Jersey-based
Sabinsa Corporation, he travels around with a tonne-load of
material and a mission: to popularise ayurveda and education
people on the medicinal benefits of Indian herbal extracts.
Equipped with is educational tools, Majeed begins his day
out on Sabinsa on Wheels (SOW) at 8 am. Typically, his audience
is a group of 20-odd pharma manufacturers who sit through
his day-long presentations. Finally, by the end of the day,
he manages to sow the seeds in the minds of his listeners.
Majeed, like most hard-working Indians, it has been tough
journey. In 1974 Majeed, then 23 years old, with an undergraduate
degree in pharmacy from Kerala University, decided to go West.
With just $8 (the maximum amount that emigrants were allowed
to remove from India at that time) in his pocket he went to
the US. There he landed a maintenance job with a pharmaceutical
manufacturer. "Soon I switched over to production and
in a short span of three years headed the manufacturing operations,
"he recalls. To pursue his studies he moved to the East
Coast, where he joined Pfizers R & d department.
By 1980 he got his Masters degree in industrial pharmacy
and six years later he earned his doctorate.
a strong educational back-ground, Majeed had no probelem switching
jobs. He soon won an assignment as a senior research pharmacist
with Cranbury based Carter-Wallace. Subsequently, he
joined Lakewood, New-Jersey-based Paco Pharmaceuticals. Finally
in 1988, with rich knowledge in research, he decided to set
out on his own. So under the banner of his wife's name, Majeed
those early years Majeed says, "When I started the business
in 1988 I was fully focused on the pharmaceutical business,
not in the natural medicine business. After struggling along
for two years it became obvious that any approval from the
US Food and Drug Administration (USFDA) would take 5
7 years. During the initial years, i.e. 1991-93, I was trying
to establish a market for ayurvedic products for the first
time in the US. This was the biggest challenge I ever faced.
Americans at that time (some even today) are not aware that
an ancient system of medicines existed in India, which by
all counts is the mother of all medicines. The very term ayurveda,
coupled with the difficult names such as Gugulipd (difficult
for the American tongue), was a challenge in itself. Persistence
paid off in the form of one company agreeing to try my first
ayurvedic product in 1991,"
this time I ran out of my life savings of $250,000. I had
to make a decision either to give up the business or get into
another area which is not totally regulated by the FDA. Nutritional
products were the first choice. The first product I developed
for the US nutritional market was directly compressible
slow release Niacin granules." Niacin is a good
cholesterol lowering agent and belongs to the B group
of vitamins. The concept helped Majeed turn his ailing business
around into a small profitable venture.
this point he returned to his roots figuratively speaking
and started to look at some of the plant products available
in India. "Although the Indian herbal scenario was big
and there were a number of products available, it was difficult
to find good documentation on the clinical effectiveness of
these products to introduce into the markets. I had no choice
but to embark on a massive effort to collect whatever documentation
was ever published on every one of the products that I sold
in the US," he explains. "Please keep in mind that
in 1990-91 the Internet was not that proficient in providing
the information. I have spent substantial time researching
from available Indian publications and compiled the documentation
required to present the products to the market."
Majeeds exploration in cholesterol control continued,
he came across the guggul plant that yields a gum resin which
is the starting point for many natural products aimed at cholesterol
control. That marked the launch of Sabinsas flagship
trade marked product Gugulipid. "The new ingredient
was quickly lapped up by Natures Herbs, a TwinLab company.
They were the first to accept the new material," says
return to India in 1991 saw the birth of Sami Chemicals &
Extracts Ltd., which in the year 200 was renamed Sami Labs
Ltd. (SLL). Based in Bangalore, the companys first export
was Gugulipd a standardised extract. "Once the first
product was accepted the first roadblock was cleared, "says
nephew C.A.Anzar, a director at SLL. Anzar started his career
with the company virtually as an office boy doing odd jobs
while assisting his uncle.
after year, SLLs product list expanded. In 1992, hydroxy
citrin acid from Garcinia Cambogia (kokam fruit which is used
in curries as a substitute for tamarind in Kerala, Karnataka
and Maharashtra) was introduced, which within two years became
a hit in the US market. It has the property to interfere with
the deposition of fat in the body. Hence, it became a major
product for weight management in the US. "this product
earned the company the development and export award in 1994-95
from the Spices Board of India," says M.A. Rahiman, full-time
director at SLL.
early 1993 SLL opened up the Singasandara unit at Bangalore
from which it exported Boswellia serrate (dhup tree) extracts
to the Us. Sabinsa followed this up with the launch of Boswellin,
a trademarked anti-inflammatory phy-tonutrient. This was followed
by a number of standardised herbal items from India. Coleus
forshohlii came along in 1996, and by 2000-1 it had became
a major product for the treatment of obesity.
method of research involves focusing on a target and expending
every effort to achieve that target "with the understanding
that if you fail you will learn from that failure"
to this fact, he cites his own experience. "We spent
four years researching the safe and proper manufacturing aspects
of selenium in the form of L-Selenomethionine. We believe
this is the most biologically available form of human nutrition.
Today we are the largest producer of this substance in the
a researcher, he believes that one has to look at how best
one can exploit an existing material in a new way. For example,
the exoskeleton of shrimp, garbage for may, is the starting
point for the manufacturing of cosamine sulfate. Consequently
the products from SLLs four manufacturing units (Shimoga,
Kunigal, Singasandara and Mysore, all in Karnataka state)
exemplify value-addition to traditional material. For instance,
there are a number of Indian companies exporting raw herbs,
of values ranging from $6 to $8 per kilogram, but SLL exports
standardised extracts of these materials and realises twice
the value. To provide an example: Piperine in pure form is
available for export from Cochin and is sold at $75-80 per
kilo; SLL exports Bioperine, a patented product consisting
of the powdered extract obtained from bacl pepper, which fetched
around $200 per kilo. Another example: chilli oleoresin is
exported at $25-45 per kilo depending on the pungency; SLL
manufactures and markets the actual pungent principle capsaicin
at an export value of $-3000 per kilo depending on the grade.
list goes on
product from India is turmeric extract, which is sold in the
international market for around $25 per kilo. SLL extracts
the powerful antioxidant content and sells it to the neutraceutical
market for $45 per kilogram. In the area of synthetic fine
chemicals SLL has pioneered specialised products for manufacture
in India. An example is L-Selenomethionine. "The export
price of this item is around $4000 per kilo, "says director
Raj Bammi, considered a veteran in the pharmaceutical industry.
Bammi had earlier brought Cipla up from Rs.1 crore to Rs.1,000
crore in turnover when he left in 1997 to join Majeed.
SLL boasts a list of over three dozen products. Another unique
feature that has helped the company in its business plan is
the development of these produts in association with Sabinsa,
which secures contracts with other US company to manufacture
certain chemicals in India. "We realise almost double
our cost of production. For example, our cost of production
for one particular extract is around $450 and we export it
for around $800 per kilo," explains Rahiman. A carotenoid
called Lutein extracted from marigolds and is used for ocular
nutrition in the US neutraceutical industry, is sold at $150
received its first Us patent as early as 1996. By 2000 it
had seven, withan additional 25 European and world patents
pending. In 1999 the company started an R & D centre and
tissue culture laboratory in the Peenya Industrial area and
set up a biotechnology centre at Nelamangala where trial production
of Lactospore, a probiotic, has already begun.
financial terms SLL, which started with Rs.25 lakh in 1990,
has now grown into a Rs.50 crore company. In fact,
within a span of three years to March 2000, sales more than
doubled from Rs.18.59 crore (1997-98) to Rs.44.5 crore. During
the same period the profit after tax also zoomed from Rs.1.36
crore to Rs.5.89 crore. "we have been ploughing back
the profit into the business," says Majeed.
for the future: "SLL will continue to manufacture and
sell traditional standardised extracts as well as nutritional
and pharmaceutical fine chemicals. In addition, we will develop
a product management team to handle broader responsibilities-
adapting as many pharmaceutically useful herbs from around
the world to Indian soil conditions and assisting Indian farmers
with cultivating them. SLL, will do the extraction and export.
International colloborations will form a important part of
our strategy, "says Majeed, who is clear that SLL will
develop research-based intellectual property and explore its
subsequent commercialisation to prepare for the future post
2005, when WTO patent regime comes into force. "SLL
will join the Rs.500 crore league then," he declares.