CIPLA: Taking On Big Pharma

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In 2001, CIPLA chairperson Yusuf Hamied shook the world of medicine and pharma by making an anti-HIV drug ‘cocktail’ that cost less than a dollar a day. It revolutionised the treatment of HIV by making it affordable for all.

Yusuf Hamied receiving the Padma Bhushan from the then Indian President A.P.J. Abdul Kalaam in 2005
Yusuf Hamied receiving the Padma Bhushan from the then Indian President A.P.J. Abdul Kalaam in 2005

Here are the numbers: Hamied brought down the cost of HIV treatment to $350 per patient per year, from over $12,000 per patient per year. Indian pharmaceutical giant CIPLA had ended the monopoly of Big Pharma in the treatment of HIV and AIDS.

CIPLA was founded in Bombay, in 1935, by chemist Khwaja Abdul Hamied, who set up a small laboratory called ‘The Chemical, Industrial and Pharmaceutical Laboratories’, later shortened to ‘CIPLA’.

An ardent follower of Mahatma Gandhi, Khwaja Abdul Hamied wanted to make medicines accessible to all. Drugs for diarrhoea, dysentery and malaria were supplied by CIPLA to Burma and South-East Asian countries during World War II.

World War II
World War II

The company grew exponentially after independence and was supported by leaders such as Gandhi, Sardar Patel, Maulana Azad and C V Raman, who shared the vision to make India self-sufficient in healthcare.

Khwaja Hamied’s son Yusuf joined the company in 1961. He would head it for the next 52 years. Under his leadership, the company grew and expanded and, in 1968, its turnover crossed the Rs 1-crore mark for the first time.

Along with other companies, CIPLA successfully lobbied to change the Patent Law of 1911, which was used by multinational companies in the 1950s and ’60s to maintain a monopolistic control over the domestic market. Things were never the same.

These monopolies had pushed drug prices beyond the reach of most Indians. Yusuf Hamied was determined to change that. His lobbying along with others resulted in the enactment of the Patents Act of 1970.

Now, drugs could be copied even if they were under international patent, as long as the manufacturing process was not the same. This law transformed the Indian pharma industry, enabling CIPLA and other companies to grow by manufacturing generic drugs.

Official Logo of Cipla
Official Logo of Cipla

CIPLA has emerged as a global leader, not only because of the medicines it makes but because it has made a difference to the lives of the patients it serves.

Cover Image: Cipla Archives


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