H and PC Today
(Household and Personal care Today)
December 2008

Sabinsa and its first 20 years of activity: meet Muhammed Majeed


Dr. Muhammed Majeed with his son
Shaheen & grandson Ramses

20 years have passed since Muhammed Majeed founded the Sabinsa Corporation in the United States. It was 1988 and today SABINSA proudly celebrates an important anniversary, twenty years is always a meaningful achievement.

In 2007 HPC today devoted a cover story to Muhammed Majeed and the awarding in 2004 of the Ellis Island medal of Honour, a tribute to U.S. citizens from various ethnic backgrounds awarded for showing outstanding qualities in their personal and professional lives and for providing a significant contribution to the growth of the country.

In that 2007 HPC Today article we already had the opportunity to describe how the ancient-rooted Indian abilities, witnessed by the recent great scientific and technological development, and thus economic growth, of India, had successfully exploited the opportunities only a great country like America can offer to those enduring to turn a project, a dream into an achievement. Sabinsa is the true example of such opportunities being exploited. Today, that project has been developed, that dream has come true, with Sabinsa being recognized as a leading company in the chemistry business worldwide.

The Sabinsa story is also the story of a family. A family that has supported Muhammed Majeed in his venture started from such a distant country, and that now sees the new generations completely inserted into the company with Dr. Majeed's son, Shaheen Majeed.

In wishing Sabinsa a brilliant future ahead, two years from that interview, we come back to Dr. Muhammed Majeed to ask him to go through this story, underlining the most significant moments.


Dr. Majeed, can you tell us what led you in your life to founding Sabinsa? What is your project, or even your dream?
I came to the US as an immigrant in 1975 and did my Ph.D. in Industrial Pharmacy at S1. John's University, New York. I worked my way through college. While working for Pharma companies like Pfizer, Carter Wallace, in their R&D division.
I was the first person in my family to get a Ph.D. My father, in my home state of Kerala, India, was a business man. The urge to go into my own enterprise was, probably, in my genes!!
In 1988, I was close to 40 years old and decided to give-up a relatively senior position in Pharma research to strike on my own in business. I was reasonably confident that I will succeed. I reasoned that if I do not succeed, I can always go back to a job because I was still relatively young.
I started Sabinsa with the objective of importing into the US Bulk drugs which were coming off-patent because this was beginning of generic drug business in the US. My business initially on off-patent drugs did not take off too well because of some "out of turn approvals"
of ANDA's of some companies, by certain unscrupulous persons in the USFDA and hence the approval process was getting unduly delayed. I had always had interest in the traditional Indian system of medicine, which is based on natural product therapy. Kerala, my State of birth is the home of this holistic approach to good health inIndia. I decided to introduce ingredients which form the backbone of Ayurveda, Traditional and Natural therapies in India to America instead of importing off-patent bulk drugs. Co-incidentally,at this period, people in America were also looking at "Alternative Medicine" because of high cost of healthcare. I recognized there was general scepticisms in the mind of consumers regarding efficacy of the traditional therapy systems of medicines like Ayurveda although there were no issues with safety of these products. I devised a program called "Sabinsa On Wheels" (SOW) which was to visit major towns in America, along with 2 to 3 of my colleagues, to explain to the local Nutritional companies and others, the Science behind Ayurveda. SOW was successful and products started selling. Going from one town to the next one to conduct programs under SOW has a special place in my heart. My family; wife and 3 young children supported me fully. Sabinsa operated out of the basement in my house. My wife managed the administration part of the business. My family support was critical as an emotional cushion because I had exhausted literally all my savings (including US $ about 50,000 in credit cards' loans). This emotional support, as I look back, was critical to my survival and success.

Which do you reckon have been the defining moments of your story? Have there been difficult moments? Do you have any special memories, an account or story to tell our readers about? What role has your family played in the history of the company?
One of the key defining moment came in 1991 when USFDA was literally paralyzed into inaction because of "out of turn approvals" of ANDA's and my decision to introduce Ayurvedic / Natural products into the US out of India. The second defining moment for me was setting up my own manufacturing in India in 1991-93 because of inconsistent quality of materials I was buying from the trade. My background is in Pharma and the manufacturing arm of Sabinsa ie., Sami Labs Limited in India followed Pharma like GMP guidelines and hence Quality was assured. The economic liberalization in India had just begun. India was still obsessed with a "creating a socialistic pattern of society". Even obtaining phone connections was difficult because of all prevalent red tape!! That the company survived and flourished is satisfying. The 1994 basic drug award from the Hon. President of India was a great inspiration. The third defining moment for me has been the presence with me of a group of team members who have grown with the company and have complemented my efforts. I look upon this team with a great deal of pride and affection. A new state-of-art research centre was setup in 1998 and the company moved into its own premises at that time. That date is also edged into my memory. In 2002, Sami Labs Limited, our manufacturing arm, won the National Award (from Department of Scientific and Industrial Research) for research. For a small company this was most satisfying. I am proud of our R&D group and its achievements. The emotional support from the family has always been there. The name Sabinsa is the name of my wife and Sami is the name of my daughter. My son Shaheen has been with me for 12 years and is working his way up and now as Marketing Director of the company.


Where does Sabinsa stand today? Which products and applications are you investing in?
Sami Labs has become the holding company of the group. The Company is not publicly traded. Sabinsa is the marketing arm and has strong presence in the US, Japan, Europe with offices in Australia and South Africa. Sabinsa's focus continues to be on the natural products for dietary supplements and cosmetic ingredients with therapeutic benefits i.e. cosmeceuticals. Sabinsa has developed two new drugs, one against glaucoma and the other for Psoriasis (skin disorder). They have been approved by the Drug Control General of India (DGCI) as safe and efficacious. These approvals are perhaps the first drug molecule approvals in India, for new drugs developed locally from Natural Sources, since India's independence in 1947. We are investing more and more in drug discovery based on single molecules from natural products; opening, new sales and distribution centres worldwide; conducting trials for claim substantiation of dietary ingredients, cosmeceuticals and updating of our manufacturing facilities. In 2002, we setup a Super Critical Fluid Extraction (SCFE) facility to produce solvent-free extracts through non-toxic manufacturing methods. In 2007-08, we have setup our largest herbal extraction facility at Hyderabad, India. Simultaneously, we setup a Continuous Extraction plant near Bangalore which is now operational. This continuous extraction facility enables us to keep up with the demands for high bulk items globally.


How is research organized in Sabinsa? What are the connections with academia? What research are you currently undertaking?
Sabinsa / Sami Labs has a research centre in Bangalore which employs about 150 people plus 30 Ph.D,'s. Sabinsa and Sami works very closely with academic institutions like liT, Mumbai (India), IISC, Bangalore (India), CSIR, India, Rutgers University (US) Princeton University (USA) and a number of other academic institutions. It also supplies materials for research and clinical trials to National Institute of Health, National Cancer Institute and Natural Curcumin to MD Anderson Medical Centre University of Texas. Sabinsa / Sami have been granted 45 patents in the US and other countries.

Almost 56 patent applications are pending. In short, Sabinsa is a science based company. R&D is the backbone of the company. Most of its research staff including Biological "in vitro" testing labs have been trained in reputed institution abroad and have had their academic qualification mostly in the US and India.

Does the term "natural" continue to have a good appeal today? We know the common perception of this team can be misunderstood "Natural" continues to be as relevant and applicable and perhaps more than ever. The great advantage of natural compounds is that most of them have a history of safe use over centuries and they tend to have less of side effects. The bias against "Naturals" has always been because of unsubstantiated claims by over enthusiastic but limited number of people in the industry; Sabinsa has strived to fill this gap by substantiating claims in "test tube" i.e. "in vitro" and by conducting clinical trials on its products.

The current macroeconomic scenario is rather complex. Which do you reckon are the critical factors and how can they be overcome? Which instead are the opportunities?
There are no easy answers to operate, independent of the macro economic scenarios. The basic principles of management continue to be relevant. They are: new products which "do what you claim them to do", consistent quality, also finding newer uses of existing products (product innovation) and effective marketing. I see a great opportunity for natural products based on "science" with mounting health costs and also opportunities to develop new drugs including those derived from nature produces and chemically modified from "Naturals". Even today, almost 35 to 45 percent of the drugs in use are either derived from nature or modifications of naturally existing molecules.

In 2004 you were awarded with the Ellis Island Medal of Honour. Do you think the USA is still place where immigrantscan find opportunities to exploit?
The award in 2004 of Ellis Island Medal of Honour has been the most satisfying and proud moment of my life. I do believe that the world's biggest economy with its great centres of Learning provides even bigger opportunities today than in 1975 when I came to the USA. If one is hardworking and "Dares to Dream", he can fulfil his dream with or without "Sleep" in America.

Europe has entered into the active phase of the REACH. This issue of HPC Today includes a special focus on this topic, so crucial for Europe. What are your thoughts on this matter?
REACH program, in my opinion, which will lead to over regulations; I believe, it will hamper free trade. They even want dossiers to be submitted for products which are 100 years old in Europe!

The REACH also involves issues connected to intellectual property. From you point of view, leading a company operating in the USA, Asia, Europe, do you reckon REACH requires some updating, especially as regards regulatory aspects?
Yes, because of excessive regulations it will hamper free trade. In my opinion, Intellectual property issues are independent of "Reach".

What are you plans for the next 20 years? Do you have a dream you wish could come true?
We hope to come out with at least 4-5 new drugs based on natural products in next 20 years. I want my company to be a responsible and reliable corporate entity for all times to come. I want my company to generate a loyal group of customers, suppliers, employees and importantly farmers who continue growing plants required by us, thus conserving natural resources. I have a dream that one day my company will be spoken in the same breath as a company like Pfizer where I started my career. I wish that all my Key team members, near and dear ones, healthy and happy are with me to give support for the next 20 years down the line.