“The success of Aastrid is based on R&D, and our growth has been 60% to 70% year-on-year for the last three years. At CPhI 2018, Aastrid received a prestigious award for the ‘Make in India’ Enablement category, and thus industry experts acknowledged our efforts for developing indigenous technologies and reducing dependence on China.”
Could you provide a brief introduction to Aastrid Life Sciences and highlight your core product offering and key strategic markets?
Aastrid Life Sciences is an associate company of Aastrid International Pvt. Ltd., a pharmaceutical export business founded in 1997. We export APIs and bulk drugs to over 50 countries. In 2011, we decided to venture into manufacturing of advanced pharmaceutical intermediates and launched Aastrid Life Sciences.
Initially, we set up our Research and Development (R&D) Centre because we were keen to have R&D even before we started manufacturing. We see many small and medium size companies in India that are struggling because they do not have their own R&D facilities and depend on other companies for technology; due this reason, they cannot improve their processes and thus cannot become competitive. In 2013, we acquired a sick unit and refurbished it completely to commence our manufacturing operations for advanced pharmaceutical intermediates. We decided to focus on niche pharmaceutical intermediates because too many established players exist in drug manufacturing and it has become extremely competitive. As a start-up company you also cannot target regulatory markets like the United States, Europe, Japan etc. as the gestation period for starting commercial business in these markets require anything between 4-5 years. In 2014, we obtained approval from the DSIR (Department of Scientific & Industrial Research) and received recognition for our R&D Centre. We are also implementing the ISO 9001:2015 Quality Management Systems at both our sites. Recently we have also received GMP Certificate from TUV Nord India, a third party certification body.
Due to current environmental issues in China, intermediates and even the bulk drug supply situation is completely disrupted. Against this background, to mitigate the risk of depending on China a number of domestic as well as international manufacturers of pharmaceuticals are now looking for supplies from reliable Indian companies. We are currently offering our intermediates to all the leading pharmaceutical companies in India including Teva, Sandoz, Sun Pharma, Lupin, Glenmark, Alembic, Hetero, MSN, Alembic and Emcure and also exporting to countries such as France, Germany, Italy, Spain, Netherlands, the United Kingdom, the United States, Brazil, Korea, China and Japan.
What is your strategy to find clients in international markets?
Our office in China helps us identify opportunities, and they study the potential of shortlisted products in terms of number of manufacturers for this product, their capacities, prices, current status and also prospective customers in India and worldwide.
We make use of this experience while selecting niche molecules where supplies have been disrupted, and thus customers are now looking for alternate vendors. With the help of our R&D, we develop such niche molecules and then commercialize them. We also have access to large database of bulk drug manufacturers all over the world. We make use of these databases and contact our prospective customers for their requirements. In our experience, after initial contact and establishing confidence in our capabilities, these contacts become our valued customers.
Could you elaborate on your commitment to R&D and highlight some of Aastrid Life Sciences’ key activities for its clients?
We basically work on the process development for generics and use different routes of synthesis to make the process more viable and competitive. For example, we started to develop a molecule that was 100% exported from China to the rest of the world. We identified and developed this product and then commercialized it, and today Aastrid has become the number one manufacturer of this molecule in the world, and in fact Chinese factories have stopped producing it completely and Chinese companies are now purchasing it from us.
Another example is a large multinational company that used to import a costly intermediate priced at US$50 per kilogram from Europe. This product was unstable, so they used to import it under temperature controlled conditions. They also had to plan their requirements eight to nine months in advance considering lead-time for manufacturing and logistics. This company approached us and asked us to develop this product for them. We successfully developed it in our lab and managed to deliver the product within one month. This business is now very well established and for the past two years, they have not imported it at all. We have also successfully brought down cost to around US$300 per kilogram and the delivery timeframe to one month.
Our company has successfully developed and synthesized over 350 different molecules in the last six years. The success of Aastrid is based on R&D, and our growth has been 60% to 70% year-on-year for the last three years. At CPhI 2018, Aastrid received a prestigious award for the ‘Make in India’ Enablement category, and thus industry experts acknowledged our efforts for developing indigenous technologies and reducing dependence on China.
Does Aastrid Life Sciences offer contract manufacturing to its clients?
We are open to offering contract manufacturing services to our local as well as international customers. Given the slowdown in the Chinese pharmaceutical industry as a result of environmental regulations, we are receiving a number of inquiries from customers in countries such as Japan and Europe who previously preferred China as a manufacturing partner. These countries now want to make India their second base for manufacturing, and we are open to seizing this opportunity.
How has the change in regulatory framework over the last few years affected your business?
Since our inception, we have been conscientious about maintaining our Quality Management Systems (QMS). We are pleased to say that over time we have developed robust systems and efficient mechanisms for implementing these systems. We have benefited immensely because of this initiative, which has helped us to develop business in collaboration with the top pharma companies within a very short period. Almost all of our top customers visit us and audit our plant from time to time. This also helped us to further improve our Quality Assurance Systems. In our experience, very few intermediate manufacturing companies take time to develop and implement QMS, but we believe it is imperative to have these systems in place, because it has also helped us to differentiate ourselves from the competition and attract top companies from different markets globally; our customer base has grown from 15 customers to 60 customers over the last two years, and our exports have grown by 10% with 40% of our revenues coming from exports, which is indicative of our high quality assurance that conforms to international standards.
What is your vision for Aastrid Life Sciences in the next three to five years?
We have already commissioned our greenfield project and plan to complete it in two phases. This will create additional capacity for us to grow our business. We want to take our revenues from US$40 million to US$55 million (INR 300 to INR 400 crores) in the next five years. We want to continue focusing on advanced intermediates and do not plan to enter APIs and formulations because we are very successful in our current sphere.