As India battles the second, deadly, wave of the Coronavirus which has caused havoc across the country and stretched its healthcare system to the limit, companies in the sector have come to the fore, literally as lifesavers, working tirelessly to ensure the attack of the virus is countered with every measure at their disposal.
Fighting this battle to save lives are several family-owned businesses across the healthcare industry. If the Reddys of Apollo Hospitals are ensuring patients get care in their facilities, vaccine makers like the Poonawallas of Serum Institute of India (SII) and the Ellas of Bharat Biotech are at the forefront as India rolls out its liberalised vaccination policy from May 1. Equally important are companies like diagnostics chain Metropolis Healthcare and the Godrej Group, which is supporting the vaccination effort with its smart refrigeration systems. There are more examples: Cadila, Cipla, Dr. Reddy’s, Wockhardt… the list is long.
In our cover story this month, we take a close look at how Bharat Biotech, run by Krishna Ella and his wife Suchitra, developed its home-grown vaccine Covaxin— jointly with the Indian Council of Medical Research—in double quick time and, despite challenges, managed to fight shoulder to shoulder with SII in aiming to inoculate India’s massive population. Bharat Biotech has been making vaccines for several deadly diseases even earlier—from swine flu to typhoid and polio—but the scale and magnitude of the pandemic has put the spotlight firmly on the couple, making them symbols of India’s battle against Covid-19. As Krishna Ella tells us, “I believe that the ‘I’ in India should always stand for innovation. That’s the principle I work on.” And his company has stood by this principle. It has over 140 patents and has delivered more than 4 billion doses of vaccines worldwide. The fact that Bharat Biotech has been R&D-led has stood it, and India, in good stead, with Covaxin being one of the two main vaccines Indians are receiving. As part of the government’s efforts to boost vaccine production, SII (which produces the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine Covishield) and Bharat Biotech have been sanctioned credit of ₹3,000 crore and ₹1,500 crore, respectively.
The vaccine makers apart, we decode how Bengaluru-based Ranjan Pai is emerging as one of the country’s top names in healthcare, growing his Manipal Health Enterprises (which runs Manipal Hospitals) into a panIndia empire. Having lost the battle for Fortis Healthcare three years ago, Pai got busy putting together other pieces of his strategy to ensure Manipal Hospitals’ growth plans were not affected. Consequently, he acquired Columbia Asia Hospitals in a ₹2,200-crore deal which would give his primarily South India-based company a national footprint. For long a favourite of investors, Pai’s business recently got a boost with the National Investment and Infrastructure Fund investing ₹2,100 crore into Manipal Hospitals. With more acquisitions lined up, Pai is going to be a healthcare entrepreneur to watch.
Moving away from healthcare, this issue also tells you how the Facebook ecosystem, including WhatsApp and Instagram, is betting on small and medium businesses in India to power its next phase of growth. Riding on the power of community, these social media platforms are on to new monetisation avenues. And, as Facebook’s India boss Ajit Mohan tells us in the context of the pandemic, it’s been a second coming for social media.
(This edit originally appeared in Fortune India's May 2021 issue)