Saturday, March 16, 2013

Dr Anji Reddy--A Tribute

Dr Anji Reddy, founder of Dr Reddy's Laboratories (DRL) passed away yesterday on March 15, 2013. I had met Dr Reddy many times and discussed the issues in Indian Pharmaceutical industry as well as the research and development in his company. His passion to discover new drugs, rather than just copy and manufacture the generics of what others had already discovered, even though he himself was a large player in the generics business, was visible in all our interactions. Below are some excerpts from an article I had written about him in Business India in December 2001.

Dr K Anji Reddy (1940-2013)

"Reddy showed promise in research long ago. According to his elder sister Rajamma, he used to open up germinating beans when he was four to see how the seedling was coming out. Reddy spent his childhood in a small village across the Krishna river near Vijayawada, where his father was a prosperous farmer growing turmeric. His early education took place in Hindu College and Andhra Christian College, Guntur. He has really fond memories of his days there. When we accompanied him to these places he was distressed to find that his chemistry lab had been shifted from its old premises at Andhra Christian College. A sentimental Reddy told the principal and head of the department there, “I will give you all the modern equipment to build a modern analytical lab. My only request is that you restore my old lab to the same premises.”

After his BSc in Guntur, Reddy joined UDCT in Mumbai to study pharmacy. He was greatly influenced by the atmosphere at UDCT. “The academia there was very close to industry. I liked it,” recalls the entrepreneur in him. He then went to National Chemical Laboratory, Pune, to study for a doctoral degree. This time he decided to switch his field from pharmacy to chemical engineering, since bulk drug manufacture was mostly chemical engineering. Not an easy switch. “In fact I was very hesitant to take him on as a student,” recalls L.K. Doraiswamy, a distinguished chemical engineer who later became the director of NCL and is currently Anson Marston Distinguished Professor in Engineering Emeritus at Iowa State University.

But Reddy did not disappoint him. “Indeed, I have rarely taken a better decision in recruiting students, and even scientists. He not only produced a very fine thesis, but also worked on a side problem to produce a paper in a matter of weeks, which to this day is quoted in practically all books and reviews on Properties Estimation. The Reddy–Doraiswamy equation developed by him (with little assistance from me) for predicting liquid diffusivities has lost none of its original flavour,” he declares.

Anji is a short form for Anjaneya or Hanuman, who was the village deity of Tadapalle and every family had an Anji in it. According to the epic Ramayan, Anjaneya carried the mountain of gandhamadan to cure the battle- wounded Laxman, since he did not know the taxonomy of the herb sanjeevini that was needed. Anji Reddy, however, does very focused research into molecules and does not bring a mountain.

When we visited his village he showed us the railway bridge he used to cross over the Krishna in spate to reach Vijayawada on the other side. The old bridge has vanished and modern bridges are in place. As we walked with him across the bridge he was able to recall many an old story with brief intermissions for conversation with his research teams in Hyderabad and Atlanta on his mobile phone.

As we walked with him we realized that Reddy is truly crossing a bridge in his career. From a generics manufacturer, to a research - based Pharmaceutical company; from an Indian footprint to a global one.

What does a “visionary” mean? Is it that others around him are blind? No, most people can only see what is around them. They cannot see what is not there or what is in the distant future.

A visionary can. "

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