Exclusive | Kiran Majumdar Shaw on how Biocon hopes to beat COVID-19

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Kiran Mazumdar Shaw, Biocon’s executive chairperson, is delighted that Biocon’s COVID-19 drug Itolizumab is DCGI-approved

Kiran has also been conferred with the prestigious IMC Ladies’ Wing —Woman of the Year Award 2019–2020

The net worth of Kiran Mazumdar Shaw in 2020 is $420 crore. But that is not the only reason why the executive chairperson of Biocon evokes admiration amongst her contemporaries.

Kiran has also been conferred with the prestigious IMC Ladies’ Wing —Woman of the Year Award 2019–2020.

Vanita Bhandari, the president of the organisation, pays her tribute by saying, “Ms Kiran Mazumdar-Shaw is a shining light who has broken the glass ceiling and paved a successful path in the fields of science and chemistry. Her vision, talent, dedication and philanthropic initiatives motivate us to aspire high.”

Excerpts from the conversation with Ms Shaw:

Now that Biocon’s ‘original’ drug Itolizumab has finally got the much-needed approval, what is your current state of mind?

It is a truly innovative, original drug, which is made in India. We have not copied any other drug. I don’t think anybody has picked this important factor, which is what makes it disappointing.

It is life-saving. This is not a small feat. When the disease gets to a serious stage, nothing can help you except drugs like ours. Itolizumab regulates all cytokines in that pathway.

This is a first drug from India that will stand on its own. Why can’t people be proud of a drug made in India? We believed in this drug for the last 20 years. So, it’s a fantastic feeling now.

COVID-19 is a serious disease and people have still not understood the gravity of the disease

Many Indian companies are rushing to claim they can make the vaccine available by September/ October, when experts say it’s not possible till next year. Your comments?

You can make a vaccine by this period, but the question is if you can deliver a well-validated vaccine. It is like the Russians claiming they have developed the vaccine, which is fine as anyone can make a vaccine.

Today, if Astra Zeneca develops the vaccine, they also have to evaluate it. You have to do this to check whether there is a possibility of being re-infected by the virus.

Secondly, even if you have responded positively to the vaccine, you need to know for how long you are going to be protected. Realistically, you could get a vaccine by the end of this year, but it is vital to check the safety and reliability factor before even I would use it.

The ongoing pandemic has changed everyone’s life. What has your learning been from this situation?

It is definitely something to worry about; it is a serious disease and people have still not understood the gravity of the disease.

But it is not necessary that you are going to die. The people who have to worry about COVID-19 are the vulnerable population. I should be worried; I am over 60 but since I don’t have co-morbidities, I am not worried so much about myself, but I have to remain safe as my mom is almost 90 and my husband is 70 and they are both cancer survivors.

You are very vocal with your views on social media and otherwise. Are you not worried about anti reactions?

If you are honest and if you have no mal-intent and there is no agenda, nothing will happen. If I have political aspirations, then maybe it will have an impact.

You put a succession plan in place several years back. At a time when the nepotism debate is ongoing, what made you opt for such a radical (at that time) decision?

 I don’t agree with this nepotism debate because if a person is good you must give an opportunity to him/her but you should not give it just because they are your family.

For instance, Azim Premji’s son Rishad is a capable youngster who understands the business at Wipro though they have an outside guy at the helm. My niece — a brilliant cancer immunologist, PhD, MBA from Stanford, Masters from MIT — worked at Third Rock Ventures in the US.

I told her to do something for Biocon. I started a small biotech company in Boston and have asked her to run it. But she is the kind of person who has earned it. As far as Biocon biologics is concerned, I don’t think she can run this.

This is a very professional business and so it is helmed by professionals.
You have a strong, admirable relationship with your husband. What is the secret?

I just think it is your commitment to anything. First, you have to make a judgement call about the person and then obviously you will have some differences and arguments, all of which happen in a marriage.

But at the same time, it is a commitment you made. For me, my husband has played a very important role in my life. He has really supported me in a fantastic way.

Not many husbands would be happy to support their wives to be at the front. He has always taken the backseat. He always tells me, ‘It is your business... you have to run it and I will support you but you need to lead it.’ That’s a fantastic quality. We have respect for each other.

You are a fiercely loyal friend who has stood by Vijay Mallya through all the tough times.

I am just a good, loyal friend, and there are lots of people who are good friends too. In fact, I would often point out to Vijay to see how many of all his fair-weather friends would be with him when the chips are down. I was right. He agrees with me now. I was the only one who would caution him then, but he would never listen to me.

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