Regular contributor Brendan Shaw gives his informed take on how best international stakeholders can engage with India’s attempts to transform into a global pharma innovation powerhouse,


Our greatest ability as humans is not to change the world, but to change ourselves

Mahatma Gandhi

The secret to success in India is to expect the unexpected. One needs to maintain peace of mind, develop patience, and relish the opportunity that comes from disruption.

India is rich, vibrant, hectic, unconquerable, and growing. Seething, almost, with opportunity.

But to succeed in India, outsiders often need to shed their preconceptions, leave their prejudices at the door, and be ready to embrace the fluidity of Indian culture, society and economics.

I learned this myself on my very first trip to India 30 years ago as a young, inexperienced, 20-something Western backpacker. On that trip I had a lot of adventures, made many mistakes, and had a few close calls.

But I learned a lot about the country. Before my own eyes, I saw the chaotic beauty, adaptability and opportunity that India affords those who are willing to embrace it.


India’s pharmaceutical industry today

Thirty years later, India today is fast becoming one of the pharmaceutical powerhouses of the world.

The country has developed its self-sufficiency in medicines and vaccines over the years.

Having achieved the status of being one of the world’s major suppliers of cheaper, generic medicines, today the momentum of national government policy and industry action is to shift from competition based on cost to competition based on innovation and developing new innovative medicines and vaccines.

Governments (federal and state) and industry in the country are working to drive this fundamental shift in India’s pharmaceutical industry strategy.

The Indian government’s recently drafted National Medicines Policy emphasises the importance of building India’s international competitiveness in pharmaceuticals through innovation, public-private sector collaboration, and enhancing the links between academia and industry.

Meanwhile, major pharmaceutical industry groups like the Indian Pharmaceutical Alliance (IPA) and the Organisation of Pharmaceutical Producers of India (OPPI) are engaging in this important debate and driving strategy.

The past growth trends and future opportunities in India’s pharmaceutical industry are impressive, to say the least. We have written about this elsewhere.

However, the country’s transition from being the ‘pharmacy of the world’ providing cheap medicines, to a nation which drives innovation, high value products and services, and new medicines to treat disease is a complicated one.

While the opportunities are enormous, there are issues to address. These include building better collaboration between industry and academia, developing supplies of active pharmaceutical ingredients, re-orienting the Indian industry towards greater international collaboration, and embedding quality and effectiveness standards right across the sector in areas of production quality, business practices and environmental standards.

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Tips for the unwary

Shawview Consulting has operated in India for several years now, working on pharmaceutical and global health projects alongside a range of partners in the public, private and NGO sectors.

Much of our work has been at the intersection of industry development and growth, and ESG issues like environmental protection, access to medicines strategies, and employee development.

Issues like these are at the cutting edge of India’s international engagement with global health and medicines markets.

Engaging in that interface between the Indian pharmaceutical industry and global health is an interesting exercise that takes time, knowledge, and a dose of humility.

Working on corporate and government policy strategies requires maintaining a delicate balance between driving progress and momentum while also allowing the processes of consultation and decision-making to run their course.

As a young backpacker 30 years ago, I learned that developing some patience and respect for local systems and norms is important.

Whether it was queuing up for hours and hours at a government department office to get some simple paperwork done or being stuck on a bus that had stopped to give way to a cow, I learned that things sometimes do work differently in India.

As an outsider it doesn’t mean you always have to agree with these local idiosyncrasies, but you do need to respect and try to understand them. Engaging with India successfully is about leaving your assumptions, preconceptions and hubris back on the plane when you arrive.

The fact is that international consultants can sometimes have difficulties with this approach.

By their nature, international consultants flying into a country often try to demonstrate their expertise by proving how clever they are in providing ‘worldly’ advice. It’s our way of trying to justify our value and our fees.

But over the years, I’ve seen so many presentations from international consultants to audiences in countries like India that crash and burn. Or worse, met with deathly silence.

These sorts of presentations about why the world is right and your country is wrong typically don’t go down well with local audiences. They tend to start and finish with a monologue of what’s wrong with India, why things are broken and what India needs to do to fix its problems.

And there are many consulting reports about India that are developed, published and never seen again for similar reasons.

People in the Indian pharmaceutical industry are smart, savvy, knowledgeable, and have an idea of what their companies and industry need to do to grasp opportunities that are there.

Where international consultants can help is spending more time listening to the issues in India, in the local industry and health sectors, and less time lecturing the locals about the problems.

This is not to ignore the issues that need to be addressed. There are many issues India needs to address, and some of them are serious. But this means taking an approach of working with local stakeholders in identifying the issues, building on the strengths, addressing the problems, and working to find solutions.

As a wise Indian man once hinted at, the best strategy to change the world may be to start changing ourselves.

Certainly, it’s a lesson we’re all still learning, but it’s one that is crucial to India’s commercial, policy and clinical success in address the country’s and the world’s global health needs.


Brendan Shaw is Principal of Shawview Consulting and Adjunct Professor at the Sydney Pharmacy School, Faculty of Medicine and Health, University of Sydney.