"Store in a cool, dry place." How many times have we read this instruction on medicine packs, and how many times have we treated such instruction with the seriousness it deserves?
"You find medicines kept in bathrooms, on window sills, on kitchen shelves, open to moisture, sunlight, humidity, water vapour and bacteria," rues Mr. Mohan Bhandari, managing director, Bhandari Industries, a company providing protection to medicines against such practices.
Medicines are subject to the different elements in the atmosphere, which even penetrate through PVC film and can change the composition of the molecules of the medicines within, says Mr. Bhandari. Hence, it becomes important that the packaging is reinforced to reduce permeability and prevent penetration.
The Bilcare division of Bhandari Industries is in the business of enhancing the protective barrier for pharmaceutical packaging - PVC and blister packaging in particular - with a polyvinylidene chloride (PVdC) coating. The company has put up a 3,000 tpa PVdC coating plant at Khed, Rajgurunagar, 40 kms from Pune in Maharashtra, in alliance with a/c Folien and BASF, both of Germany.
Medical packaging has been a recent business for Bhandari Industries. The company began as a paper tube manufacturing company used as cores for high-speed winding of synthetic yarn. Beginning with its unit at Chakan near Pune, it now has three such units. These include a dedicated unit for Reliance Industries at Patalganga, and a joint venture, PT Bhandari Mishindo, in Purwakarta, Indonesia. Noted German financial institution, Deutsche Investitions-und Entwicklungsgesellschaft mbH, better known as DEG, has recently acquired 21 per cent stake in the Indonesian venture.
The paper tubes business, or the Biltube division, accounts for a total capacity of 500 lakh tubes in India, and 7,000 tpa in Indonesia. The Indonesian plant is being expanded, phase-wise, to reach 16,000 tpa by June 2001.
"We have a 40 per cent market share in Indonesia, and are expanding into the entire Asean region, including Japan, Australia and Thailand. Even with this expansion, we may find a capacity constraint," says Mr. Vineet Mehrotra, vice president, finance. The company has a 40 per cent share in the paper tubes business of the domestic market.
Over the years, medical packaging, or the Bilcare division, has been marching ahead of its paper tubes business, largely due to growth in the pharma sector. Today, two thirds of the company's earnings come from the medical packaging business with the balance from paper tubes. Mr. Bhandari believes this trend will be further enhanced.
"Next to IT, the pharma sector is seeing the highest growth," admits Mr. Bhandari. The Bilcare division recently obtained a Drug Master File (DMF) registration from the US Food and Drugs Administration (USFDA) for its unit using water-based dispersion for the coating (as opposed to solvent based dispersion), and air knife technology to control the amount of coating each PVC film gets. It has become the eighth plant in the world, and the first in Asia, to get such recognition.
The registration signifies compliance to the required current good manufacturing practices (CGMP) in the area of medicine packaging and recognises the quality practices and capabilities of the company. Armed with the new registration the company plans to take on the world and, more importantly, the US market, which accounts for 80 per cent of the global pharma market. "The USFDA recognition has meant that we have broadened our horizons, and we are also helping our customers reach hitherto untapped markets where their entry was restricted due to non-USFDA compliance in the field of packaging. As their volumes of business increase, so will our opportunities expand and we will then, in fact, be partnering the growth and recognition of the Indian pharmaceutical industry at large", says Mr. Bhandari.
But for the next five years, the company will focus on building up leadership in the Asian market. On the cards is a satellite distribution unit in Singapore, which will house Research and Development (R&D) facilities, customer care and back-up services in addition to its sales force. "Our focus will be on understanding the medical packaging needs of our customers and build up our systems accordingly. This way we can build up customer loyalty," says Mr. Bhandari.
The company already has a 58 per cent market share in the domestic market in the medical barrier packaging business, and a 400-strong client base, including the likes of Abbott Laboratories, Ranbaxy, Cipla, Lupin, Novartis, SmithKline Beecham, E-Merck, Wyeth Lederle, Wockhardt, among others.
Besides, with a number of drugs expected to come off-patent and a resultant surge in the pharma sector in the country, Mr. Bhandari believes his company is well poised to ride the boom.
"There are 14,000 pharma units in the country, and every one of them will require such protective packaging to meet quality specifications and standards," says he, promising that every one of these 14,000 units will become his clients. The USFDA accreditation already has given the company a head start over the competition.
All this, he expects, will lead the company to a revenue figure of Rs 500 crores by the year 2005, around Rs 350 crores of which would come from the Bilcare division. For a company that closed year 1999-2000 with a turnover of Rs 37.01 crores and a net profit of Rs 2.8 crores, that's mighty ambitious!