Super Seven

Fair price messiah

He has tirelessly fought against a monopoly in life-saving drugs. Fighting alone has failed to dissuade him

Soumik Kar

In 1991, Jaideep Gogtay was working on a Thalassemia project, which involved developing an oral iron chelator. Thalassemia patients, mostly children, need repeated blood transfusion: the only way to survive is by taking a bottle of blood every two weeks. Over a period of time, iron builds up in the body due to the extra blood that is being taken and eventually, there is an iron imbalance that can kill the patient by getting into the heart and liver. The way to neutralise this iron overload is to take iron chelators. From 1970 to 1990, there was only one way to take iron chelators: a 12-hour injection that ran all night and in 1991, cost ₹10,000 a month. Since the late 1980s, Cipla had been working with a British scientist on an oral drug that would achieve the same result, and in 1991, it was going through clinical trials in India. The drug was the first of its kind in the world and obviously, came with all sorts of challenges. Gogtay, despite his passion and commitment, would wonder at times if it was worth all the trouble.But the determination of his boss would not let him give up. “If we have decided that we will do it, we will do it,” the boss would insist. And Cipla did it. In 1995, after four backbreaking years of hard work, the company launched Kelfer at a patient cost of ₹2,000 a month, a fifth of what the injectibles were selling at.