"Overall, I believe the virtual biotech model is here to stay and companies will increasingly look at CRO/CDMO companies for assistance in taking drugs from discovery to commercialization."
Can you highlight Aragen’s main achievements in 2022?
MK: Personally, winning the "CEO of the Year" award at the CPhI Pharma Awards 2022 is a testament to all the achievements Aragen has accomplished. Due to the great efforts of our technical and enabling teams, the company has seen tremendous growth and we have more than doubled our headcount and revenue in the last four years. In December 2021, Aragen acquired Intox, enabling us to now offer safety assessment solutions from a GLP-certified facility for submission to regulatory agencies such as the USFDA, USEPA, EMA, and others globally. We commissioned a new R&D facility at our Vizag campus, which already has a manufacturing facility. We initiated the construction of a biologics manufacturing facility in Bangalore, India, which we expect to be complete within the next 18 months. We have made great strides in terms of ESG and have signed the Science Based Targets initiative. We also became an Associate member of the Pharmaceuticals Supply Chain Initiative. We received a Silver rating from EcoVadis for our sustainability initiatives and are rated amongst the highest in India and the top 12% globally out of approximately 200,000 companies.
What does the demand from the life science industry in the US currently look like?
MK: Approximately 60% of Aragen’s business comes from the US. Our customers include pharma, biotech, life sciences, animal health, and crop protection companies that are looking to outsource their R&D and manufacturingwork. We see the trend of many US/EU pharma and biotech companies reallocating investments from China to India. They are not essentially exiting China but reallocating part of their investments to India, especially on the discovery side – chemistry, biology, and to an extent biologics. On the manufacturing side, we are seeing companies reallocating their investments from China and taking it back to the US or Europe. This had a ripple effect and as manufacturing companies in the US and Europe reached capacity, these CDMOs started collaborating withcompanies in India. We also saw a slowdown in the availability of capital to biotechs’ R&D programs and there was a decrease in the number of new startups and IPOs in 2022.
RS: During the slowdown in the markets, Aragen took the opportunity to look at our strategy and vision for the next five years. Our strategy is to be a partner of choice for companies on their journey from early-stage developmentthrough to clinical proof-of-concept – Phase 2B. In this effort, we are operationalizing a state-of-the-art formulation manufacturing facility in our Mallapur campus at Hyderabad, by April 2023. We are also setting up a biologicalmanufacturing facility in Bangalore.
Can you speak to Aragen’s approach to environment, health, safety, and sustainability?
MK: We have signed up with various organizations globally in our commitment to achieve a net zero target by specific dates. Not only are we members of the global Science Based Targets initiative (SBTi) and GRI South Asia Charter on Sustainability Imperatives, but we have also set ourselves a target to reduce CO2-eq emissions intensity by 20% and water consumption by 30% by 2025, and achieve zero waste disposal to landfill by 2025.
How does Aragen lever digitalization?
MK: We have implemented a “Go Digital” strategy to take us to make Aragen a digital CRO. Over the next two years, we will focus on three main initiatives. First, we are working on manufacturing automation and digitalizationthat will help us not only in data collection and analytics but also in going paperless and reducing the chances of human errors. Secondly, we will focus on digitalizing the customer experience by implementing smart tools that allow customers to interact better and more seamlessly with us in real time and in a secure environment. Thirdly, we will digitalize and automate our labs to improve efficiencies.
Where do you see growth opportunities in 2023?
MK: In terms of our five-year plan, the first three years will be focused on Aragen’s ability to assist clients from concept to commercial. The next two years will be focused on extending our capabilities in terms of commercial and we are already investing in drug products and biologics manufacturing toward a commercial scale. Overall, I believe the virtual biotech model is here to stay and companies will increasingly look at CRO/CDMO companies for assistance in taking drugs from discovery to commercialization.
RS: Aragen believes that "in every molecule is the possibility for better health" and by treating every project with urgency and focus, we look to discover and develop medicines for our collaborators that make a positive impact on patients.