July 15, 2024

Dr Yusuf Hamied

Our people on the Hills

Dr Yusuf K. Hamied, Chairman of pharmaceutical company Cipla, while introducing the book ‘Caring for Life: The Cipla Story Since 1935’ wrote in the foreword “There is another kind of chemistry, between people, that is even more important to us at Cipla. We have always sought to work with people who have bright minds and their hearts in the right place, strong in the belief that access to affordable quality medicine is a fundamental human right”.

Dr Yusuf Hamied is a recipient of several lifetime achievement awards and many national and international honours. He has frequent presence on high-level international panels on healthcare. This level of admiration is given to someone for their efforts and achievements. Dr Hamied with his passion for Chemistry has been a courageous Research and Development leader and global pharma statesman. From affordable drugs to enabling one of the world’s largest portfolios of drugs and devices in inhalation therapy, his groundbreaking work and enormous contribution to healthcare have been recognised globally. He has pioneered the supply of HIV/AIDS medicines to developing countries at low cost. Dr Hamied was conferred the Padma Bhushan by the Government of India for his distinguished service to the pharmaceutical industry.

Dr. Yusuf K. Hamied was born in Vilnius, then Poland, to Lubna and Dr. K.A. Hamied, the founder of Cipla. He was raised in Mumbai. Hamied attended Cathedral and John Connon School. He moved to England in 1954 and graduated with a BA in Chemistry in 1957. In 1960, he received his PhD in Organic Chemistry from the University of Cambridge under Nobel Laureate Lord Alexander Todd.

In 1960, after his studies, Dr Yusuf Hamied joined his father Dr K.A. Hamied at Cipla, this was the beginning of a lifelong cause to ensure availability of reasonably priced drugs in India which earned them global recognition and respect. When Dr Yusuf Hamied joined, every major drug Cipla wanted to produce was covered by patents, a monopoly granted to the innovator. At that time, the multi-national companies controlled 85% of the healthcare market in India. Britain itself had changed its patent laws but India still followed the archaic British Patent Laws. Dr Hamied and his father, joined hands with national minded Indians and fought long and hard to change this. Finally, in 1972 they succeeded when a new Indian Patent Act was passed.

It gave the Indian pharma industry the legal right to manufacture and market any drug required by the country made by a non-infringing process. It heralded a free, open Pharma market in India without monopolies and initiated the Golden Age for the Industry. India has built up an enviable reputation of producing good quality drugs equal to the world’s best, at affordable prices and are now a global force to reckon.

APIs (Active Pharmaceutical Ingredients), also known as bulk drugs, are the active chemicals in tablets, syrups, injections and other formulations that produce a desired medicinal effect. Cipla introduced more than 30 APIs in the 1970s, some for the first time in India, making pharmaceutical derivatives affordable and putting the Indian pharmaceutical industry on the world map. This was a result of Dr Hamied’s knowledge, commitment and a courageous approach towards research.

Since his early days at Cipla as research scientist he was keenly watching the developments in pharma science. He realized the potential of inhalation therapy as a novel form of drug delivery for Asthama. In a important development in the treatment of the disease, Cipla together with Scientist Dr Rama Rao, introduced the revolutionary Salbutamol as Asthalin tablets in 1976 at a very affordable price. After this success, in 1978 Cipla launched Asthalin MDI offering it in an inhaled form. It was truly a defining moment, not just in the history of Cipla but also in the treatment of respiratory diseases in our country.

These are few of his achievements, in his long and distinguished career. Dr Hamied has received lot of respect mainly for his humanitarian work in making medicines affordable. He talks highly about his friend Dr Rama Rao and their vision for healthcare through the availability of affordable medicines of outstanding quality.

Again with Scientist Dr Rama Rao in 1993 they could make AZT for treatment of AIDS at a very affordable cost. In 1997, HAART (Highly Active Anti-Retroviral Therapy) Medical Report claimed that a combination of 3 drugs cocktail was effective in controlling and managing HIV. Cipla took up the challenge and were successful in the year 2000 when their flagship product ‘Triomune’ was born consisting of Stavudine, Lamivudine and Nevirapine. In 2001 they took another bold and humanitarian step and announced a major price reduction for ‘Triomune’.

Dr. Yusuf Hamied, a Christ’s College student, has maintained close ties with Cambridge over the years. In 2018, he endowed the ‘Yusuf Hamied 1702 Chair,’ one of the world’s oldest academic chairs in chemistry. The department was named after a generous donation.  He says “Cambridge gave me the foundation of an education in chemistry, taught me how to live and showed me how to contribute to society. As a scholarship student myself, I am delighted to be able to support future generations of students. I will always be indebted to this great institution and everything it stands for”.  In 2014, the University of Cambridge bestowed upon him an honorary Doctorate of Science, the University’s highest honour.

Dr Yusuf Hamied, made a big donation to the Royal Society of Chemistry to support an innovative chemistry education programme for school students in India, especially those from less-advantaged backgrounds, the Royal Society of Chemistry Yusuf Hamied Inspirational Chemistry Programme. He said “Just as teachers pass on their knowledge to their pupils, this programme will support the most talented chemistry teachers in India to train their colleagues to deliver informative and exciting chemistry lessons – a “train the trainer” approach. I am very pleased to support this sustainable model for teacher training which will allow the programme to reach thousands of teachers across the country.”

In one of his presentations on the subject ‘The Cipla story on HIV and AIDS’, Dr Hamied said “ I would like to add that we all want a world where healthcare is provided to one and all, where every citizen can dream of a decent quality of life, particularly those afflicted with HIV and AIDS. Cipla is committed to the fulfillment of this dream. We will cooperate with one and all in this Herculean task. I quote a 1981 WHO statement of Indira Gandhi, late Prime Minister of India – My idea of a better ordered world is one in which medical discoveries would be free of patents and there would be no profiteering from life or death”.

Dr. Hamied’s accomplishments in the pharmaceutical industry are numerous. A living legend, he will be remembered for his courageous research decisions, which resulted in the production of affordable medicines with humanitarian values.

We are happy and privileged to write about Dr Yusuf Hamied, pride of our neighbourhood and country.



(Editorial Committee of ‘The Voice of Malabar Hills’)