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Ranbaxy Lab bets on nutraceuticals

P.T. Jyothi Datta

NEW DELHI, April 23

THE potential of nutraceuticals has not escaped the eye of pharma big-guns. And now, it is Ranbaxy Laboratories Ltd (RLL) that has lined up plans for nutraceuticals business in the dietary supplements and OTC (over-the-counter) segment.

Top RLL sources told Business Line that the company had a presence in nutraceuticals in terms of its vitamin-based products. However, RLL is now keen on expanding this business and has major plans on the anvil.

"RLL's strategy for nutraceutical products, whether under one umbrella brand or in any other way, is still being formulated. The strategy is expected to be firmed up by July/August this year and the first of its products is expected in the market by the end of fourth-quarter,'' the official said.

In nutraceuticals, Ranbaxy's focus would be on developing vitalisers, geriatric tonics, cycle correctives for women, growth promoters for children, digestives, liver tonics and laxatives.

The domestic market for herbal or plant-based drugs is estimated to be around Rs 3,000 crore, growing at 15 per cent per annum. The global market is estimated at $70 billion. No wonder that nutraceuticals, despite the ambiguity on whether it is a food or a drug, has been of significant interest for pharma biggies.

Old runners in this segment include Parry Nutraceuticals Ltd, from the Chennai-based Murugappa group, whose spirulina and beta-carotene products are popular. The Mumbai-based Nicholas Piramal India Ltd (NPIL) also is an active player in the segment and NPIL's nutraceutical segment had clocked a 71 per cent growth in 2000-01.

The newest player on the OTC-block, Dr Morepen, too, has nutraceutical plans on the anvil, as admitted by Morepen CMD, Mr Sushil Suri.

No less than the Mashelkar committee report on the pharmaceutical industry had underscored the need to evolve strategies to respond to changes in the science of herbals, given the emergence of nutraceuticals and genetically-engineered foods.

Ranbaxy had decided to step into this area of research in 2001. And the strategic focus on the area is expected to help in generating quality nutraceuticals and ethical products.

Subsequently, the research would graduate into isolation and characterisation of `active principals', either as `new chemical entities' or as potential `lead molecules'.

In the ethical segment, Ranbaxy's focus would be on the anti-diabetes, anti-inflammatory/anti-arthritic, cardio-vascular, CNS, dermatology, respiratory and urology segments, according to the company official.

RLL sources did not rule out strategic tie-ups to speed up the growth process in the segment, even as it establishes a top-end research facility for herbal drug research at its R&D centre at Gurgaon, near the Capital.

According to industry sources, about 17 of the 50 best selling drugs in 2000, with a combined sales of $33 billion, were either derived directly from bio-resources, or discovered indirectly.

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