Business Standard

Fire in the blood for Indian pharma firms

A Punjabi-Irish director's feature, inspired by Cipla chief Y K Hamied and themed on Indian generics' fight versus 'Big Pharma', Fire in the Blood is making waves globally

Fire in the Blood
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India’s pharmacautical industry, facing attack from foreign regulators and the media over hygiene and other quality issues, finally has something to cheer. Enough, perhaps, to even muster some oxygen for whistles and catcalls.

A movie owing its genesis to chief and talking of the virtues of Indian pharma has been making waves in the festival circuit across the globe. It is premiering on Tuesday, at South Mumbai’s NCPA and should then hit the multiplexes here next week.  

It comes even as manufacturing facilities and processes of Indian drug majors such as Ranbaxy and Wockhardt face intense scrutiny by the US Food and Drug Administration. This movie positions India as the champion of cheap drugs and the sole challenge to a US-led drive to enact the most far-reaching patent and trade restrictions on life-saving medicine in human history.  It also makes references to malicious campaigns allegedly sponsored by ‘Big Pharma’ that put Indian companies in a bad light.  

The film’s Punjabi-Irish director, Dylan Mohan Gray, told Business Standard, “India represents a huge threat to the status quo which fills the coffers of Big Pharma. I don’t think too many people doubt that India will prevail in the end but these almost unbelievably powerful companies will obviously do everything they possibly can to discredit Indian generic medicine.”

Yusuf Hamied, the iconic chief of Cipla, was among the international figures interviewed for the film. “Why should one make money on things that we know people can’t afford? People are gonna die. To me, that’s genocide,” Hamied says in the trailer. His office refused to comment and directed queries to Gray.

Gray has worked with directors Deepa Mehta and Mira Nair in the past. “Dr Hamied is one of the key characters in the film…I know him well and have immense admiration for him and everything he has done in the cause of increasing access to medicine for people in need of it all over the world, so he was one of the first people I spoke to when I decided to move forward with the project,” he says. “He was especially helpful in terms of putting me in touch with others who assisted us in various ways.” Gray reached out to Hamied through a friend after finding him featured in an article almost a decade earlier. “It all really started with an article I read in The Economist while working on a film in Sri Lanka, back in 2004. The piece dealt with the battle between Big Pharma and the global public health community over access to lower-cost drugs for Africa. Dr Hamied of Cipla was prominently featured and it was the first time I had ever heard of him,” he said

Pitched as an intricate tale of ‘medicine, monopoly and malice’, Fire in the Blood tells the story of how Western pharmaceutical companies and governments aggressively blocked access to low-cost AIDS drugs for the countries of Africa. Shot on four continents and including contributions from global figures such as former US president Bill Clinton, South African social rights activist Desmond Tutu and Nobel laureate economist Joseph Stiglitz, it documents the story of an unlikely coalition which came together to save a million lives.

“Anything which showcases India’s strengths will help build brand profile for the pharma industry,” says Sarabjit Kour Nangra, vice-president, research, pharma, at Angel Broking. However, she added, the fact is there is scope for improvement in manufacturing practices without having much impact on the profitability of these companies. As the industry gets its house in order, these efforts have to be backed by a common industry-backed brand-building exercise, highlighting the strengths of Indian pharma industry, feel experts.

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