The Hindu
August 24, 2003

Sami Labs explores home turf


By N. N. Sachitanand

India’s pioneering nutraceuticals manufacturer, Sami Labs Ltd, is all set to tap the domestic market for its products. Since its founding in Bangalore back in 1991 by Muhammed Majeed, a pharmacist from Kerala, Sami Labs has been exporting its products in the form of bulk drugs, mainly to the U.S, Japan and the Middle East, where local formulators convert the raw material to tablets, package them and market them under their own brand names. Sami’s turnover from such exports exceeded Rs. 71 crores last year.

Emboldened by its export success, Sami Labs is now targeting the domestic nutraceuticals market, which according to the newly hired CEO of formulations, Neeraja Shetty, has at present a size of Rs. 300 crores per annum. In the Indian market, Sami Labs will be selling its own brand of formulations, in association with American Formulary Inc., U.S. In the first instance, the portfolio comprises nine products comprising anti-oxidants, agents to manage arthritis, osteoporosis, hepatic dysfunction and prostate cancer, a supplement to retard age-related macular degeneration and food supplements for diabetes. Another six products, in the areas of cholesterol regulation, pain relief and fat management are expected to be introduced in another year.

Sami Labs has established 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 and it now holds nine U.S. patents. According to Dr. Bammi, Director, R&D at least 15 more U.S. patents are in the pipeline.

The company has so far invested around Rs. 50 crores with three manufacturing units located around Bangalore and one in Mysore. The latest unit at Nelamangala, near Bangalore, commissioned three years ago, has the country’s first indigenously developed reactors (for extracting active agents from herbs) which use high pressure (up to 300 bars) carbon dioxide as an extraction agent is eco-friendly, compared to the traditional method of using chemical solvents. The unit was designed by a group from IIT, Mumbai, and has cost the company a fourth of an equivalent imported system. Can Sami succeed in the Indian market? Ms. Shetty acknowledges that in the U.S., nutraceuticals have a marketing edge over pharmaceuticals since they are easily accessible over-the-counter products and regarded as much cheaper alternatives to prescription therapies, particularly for chronic, non-life threatening maladies. The situation is different in India. Nutraceuticals have tough completion here from standard pharmaceuticals, which are cheap and can be accessed without prescription.
“We are, therefore, pegging our products in India as complementary to prescription drugs and as health supplements, rather than therapeutical alternatives to pharmaceuticals,” says Ms Shetty. “Our sales pitch will be made initially to the specialists, rather than the general practitioners. We have already put in place a medical sales force covering the Western and Southern regions in the country. We hope to notch up a sales turnover of Rs. 10 crores for our formulations in the current financial year and touch Rs. 100 crores per annum by 2006.”