September 08, 2003.

Nutrients of growth and health


THE Bangalore-headquartered Sami Labs Limited, a Rs 225 crore research-based pharmaceutical company with its presence in US, Europe & Japan has launched the Nutraceutical formulations in association with American Formulary Inc, New Jersey, USA, in the Indian Market under the brand series ‘Care’.

The company is involved in the manufacture and export of standardised herbal extracts, fine chemicals, specialty chemicals. Sami is engaged in pioneering work in the field of pharmaceutical chemistry, biotechnology and natural products.

Sami Labs was set up in 1991 by Dr Muhammed Majeed with an initial investment of Rs 25 lakh. This pharmacist from Kerala has pioneered the introduction of several dietary supplements, starting with Niacin, after he started Sabinsa Corporation in 1988 in the US. Dr Majeed owns 95 per cent of the equity in the closely held company.

Sami Labs has so far invested close to Rs 60 crore in four production units at Bangalore, Singasandra, Kunigal and Mysore. Its aim is to provide preventive, supportive and adjunct therapy for chronic ailments like Coronary Heart Disease, Diabetes, ARMD and Cataract, Osteoporosis, Arthritis, Prostate Diseases. It is currently looking at business opportunities in Nepal.

Sami has recently added the clinical research arm through the strategic acquisition of Clinworld. It is also engaged in tissue culture and phytoenrichment studies, biotech research on probiotics.

Sami Labs has built up an enviable global reputation as a developer and producer of standardised herbal extracts, nutraceuticals, cosmeceuticals, fine chemicals, probiotics and various enzymes. Over the years it has built up a research and development team of over 100 scientists, including 20 doctorates. With nine US patents and 15 US patents pending in addition to European and Japanese patents, says Dr Bammi, Director, R&D at least 15 more US patents are in the pipeline.

The US National Cancer Institute is currently using Sami’s SelenoCare to conduct 12-year clinical trials on the benefits of selenium in treating prostate cancer. SelenoCare, Sami’s new launch in the country, is targeted at AIDS, cancer, ageing, heart diseases among others.

With just one year in the market, Sami Labs has now drawn up an aggressive game plan for its Nutraceutical Formulations Division to boost the sales of its new breed of nutraceutical formulations (antioxidants, phyto-chemicals, glucosamine sulphate, and coenzyme supplements). These products have shown moderate success in the Indian markets. The company is setting up an exclusive facility, one-of-its-kind in Asia and the first dedicated formulations production unit in the country. The plant coming up at an existing five-acre facility in Peenya in the outskirts of Bangalore, will be adhering to USFDA, UK-MCA and Australia TGA norms.

“We aspire to build an organisation dedicated to research and development, to make a difference in the lives of people, enhance quality of life, and to get recognised as one of the finest and respected health science company globally,” Dr Majeed says.

The company has a trading division that is engaged in the marketing of bulk intermediates in the US, UK, Netherlands, Korea, China and Japan. Some of its domestic clients include Godrej, HLL, L’Oreal, Amway and Avon. Sami also has a perfumery and flavours division called Organica in Bangalore.

With dedicated scientific research, thrust on new product developments, quest for innovation, adherence to international standards of production, packaging and quality assurance, Sami Labs is now all set to revolutionise the nutritional supplement industry. “We are in the process of adapting several pharmaceutically useful herbs from around the world in Indian soil and assisting Indian farmers in cultivating them. International collaborations will form an important part of Sami’s strategy. We will develop research-based intellectual property and explore its subsequent commercialisation,” says Dr Majeed.

Neeraja Shetty, Chief Executive Officer, Nutraceutical Formulations Division, Sami Labs, who has joined the company an year ago explained the emergence of nutraceuticals as an alternative medicine and the plans of Sami Labs to Mahesh Kulkarni of Deccan Herald.

What are nutraceuticals? Are they cheaper alternatives to pharma products or ayurvedic formulations or independent medicines as such?

Answer: Nutraceuticals encompass a large group of preventive and curative health care ingredients that have been predominantly derived from long-standing medical traditions such as Ayurveda, Tibetan, Chinese and Japanese medical systems. Nutraceuticals are primarily obtained from plants especially those with a well-established use as foodstuff. The blend of these pharmaceutical and nutritional characteristics resulted in the name “Nutraceuticals,” to denote the nutritional origins and the design moulded on pharmaceuticals, that is, standardisation, efficacy and predictability of action. Nutraceuticals are basically used as dietary supplements. They are sometimes used as direct medicines for certain ailments and not alternatives to pharma products as such.

Which are the major diseases that can be treated by nutraceuticals?

Answer: All therapeutic areas (such as anti-arthritic, pain killers, cold and cough, sleeping disorders, digestion, prevention of certain cancers, osteoporosis, blood pressure, cholesterol, depression and diabetes) have been covered by nutraceuticals. It is believed that almost all ailments will be covered in the next few years.

Nutraceuticals are generally regarded as OTC products for general health products. Are they also prescribed by medical practitioners?

Answer: No. Nutraceuticals are not sold as OTC products in India. However, in the US they are sold as non-prescription dietary supplements. In India, they are sold through the ethical route. We are spreading awareness about the usage of nutraceuticals through doctors.

What is the total size of nutraceuticals market in India?

Answer: The nutraceuticals market in India is still very small and is yet to gain popularity. It is currently valued at about Rs 300 crore and there are not many players in the market. However, globally the market size is in the order of $125 billion and the leading market is the US. India is relatively new market. The size of the Indian industry is likely to reach about Rs 1,000 crore in the next four years.

Sami Labs has recently entered the domestic market with a range of nutraceuticals. What is the strategy of the company for the Indian market?

Answer: We have just completed one year in the Indian market with about eight products. Our strategy is to double the product portfolio this year and plan to sell products worth Rs 10 crore. We have adopted the ethical route to sell our products. The focus in the first year was mainly to set up the distribution network and testing. We are currently selling our products in six States and plan to go to another six States during the current year.

Nutraceuticals will be our core and focus area. We want to be a market leader and we have a clear vision for it. In the next three years, we aim to grow the nutraceuticals business to about Rs 100 crore.

This year we will strengthen our product portfolio and appoint competent sales force. We are in the process of conducting seminars and training for the medical practitioners. So far 100 doctors have been trained in Karnataka alone.

Some of the marketing strategies include a unique rational education programme for doctors about the novel range of formulations that can be prescribed as a preventive, supportive and adjunctive therapy.

Another value added promotional tool included is a loyalty assessment process for doctors.

How many products have you launched so far in India?

Answer: At present we have 9 products covering all therapeutic areas. Another six products, in the areas of cholesterol regulation, pain relief and fat management are expected to be introduced in another year.

What was your total sales in the first year in Indian market. And what are the projections for the current year and in next five years?

Answer: Our sales in the first was negligible. We mainly concentrated on setting up of the sales network. During the current year we expect the nutraceuticals business to contribute Rs 10 crore sales turnover. While the overall group turnover is expected to be in the range of Rs 300 crore.

How strong is your sales and distribution network?

Answer: We have set up sales network in six states with more than 80 field executives. During the current year we plan to expand in another six States.

What are the future plans?

Answer: Our future plans include the launch of cosmeceuticals range of products in India. Currently they are being test marketed in Dubai under “Johara” brand name. We aim to bring these products to India in the next six months. Cosmeceuticals are basically cosmetics with medicinal properties. Its ingredients such as proprietary white turmeric and pepper have been used in brands such as JK Helene Curtis, Avon, Estee Lauder and Amway; and domestically for Godrej, HLL and L’Oreal.

We also aim to increase our business to Rs 100 crore in the next three years. Currently, we have US patents for nine products and another 15 patents are pending. To enter the international market in 2004-2005, documentation procedures are on in some countries and distributors have been identified in Sri Lanka and Philippines.

You are currently setting up an advanced formulations plant for nutraceuticals near Bangalore. What’s the total capital expenditure on the unit?

Answer: The formulations range of products were currently being manufactured at GMP (good manufacturing practices) complied loan licensed units in Karnataka and other parts of the country. We are in the process of setting up a new formulations division at an investment of Rs 8-10 crore at Peenya near Bangalore.