India's Biocon expects oral insulin partner by March

BANGALORE Wed Nov 23, 2011 6:46am EST

BANGALORE (Reuters) - Biocon Ltd (BION.NS), India's largest listed biotechnology company, expects to find a deep-pocketed global partner for its experimental oral insulin pill by end-March, its top executive said on Wednesday.

"We are in advanced discussions with potential partners," Biocon's Managing Director Kiran Mazumdar-Shaw told the Reuters India Investment Summit in Bangalore.

However, Mazumdar-Shaw, listed by Forbes magazine as one of the 100 most powerful women in the world, declined to name them.

In January, Biocon had said it was looking for a partner after its oral insulin, IN-105, failed to meet the main goal of an Indian late-stage trial in patients with type-2 diabetes.

Currently, there are no insulin tablets available and patients with diabetes who need insulin -- a naturally occurring protein that controls blood sugar -- must inject it.

"We know it (IN-105) works, but we have also made some mistakes on the protocol design," said Mazumdar-Shaw, blaming the trial design for the disappointing late-stage results.

She does not expect "a normal high upfront licensing kind of deal," as the company still needs to prove the efficacy of the drug to the potential partner.

Analysts expect bigger players like Novo Nordisk (NOVOb.CO) and Eli Lilly and Co (LLY.N) to partner the drug by the end of March 2012.

Media reports suggest even Pfizer (PFE.N), whose inhaled insulin Exubera was withdrawn due to poor sales, has shown interest in partnering the drug.

Last year, Bangalore-based Biocon signed a deal with Pfizer to make insulin drugs, which the world's largest pharma company would sell globally.

The size of India's insulin market, which was $147 million in 2010, is expected to grow three-fold by 2015, according to market research firm IMARC Group.

PEN DRIVE

The company, which has a 5 percent share in the domestic insulin market dominated by Abbott Laboratories (ABT.N) (ABOT.NS), is also betting on its recently launched reusable insulin delivery device INSUPen.

"It (INSUPen sales) has not just met our forecast but it (has) exceeded our forecast," said Mazumdar-Shaw, who founded Biocon in 1978 in her garage.

She, however, warned about competitors possibly cutting prices.

Biocon's INSUPen, which costs about 675 indian rupees, is competing against cheaper pens that are available in the market for 410-450 rupees and with costlier devices sold by Novo Nordisk that cost above 1,000 rupees.

The company claims that users of INSUPen will save 1,200-1,500 rupees on refills, compared with competitors' products.

Mazumdar-Shaw also said Biocon's contract research organization (CRO), Syngene, is on track to go public in the next 16 months.

Syngene, started in 1984, has research capabilities in synthetic chemistry and molecular biology for early-stage drug discovery and development, a booming business at a time when large pharmaceutical companies are paring back their in-house research departments to cut costs.

Biocon shares closed down 5 percent at 305.20 rupees on Wednesday on the National stock exchange. Since January 31, they have fallen about 10 percent, underperforming the wider CNX Pharma Index .CNXPHARM as the company struggles to find an oral insulin partner.

(Reporting by Anand Basu, Jochelle Mendonca, Aftab Ahmed in Bangalore and Himank Sharma; Editing by Sriraj Kalluvila, Saumyadeb Chakrabarty)

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