Karan Bagaria, MD, Kemwell Talks CSR In Biopharma

Did you know there’s a Tibetan Medicine Centre in Bengaluru city established by none other than the Dalai Lama himself? “My grandfather and father were big followers of His Holiness the Dalai Lama. My father had met him during one of his visits to Bengaluru, and that’s when he asked him about setting up a clinic in Bengaluru that follows ancient Tibetan medicine,” Karan Bagaria, Managing Director of biopharma company Kemwell tells us. His company sponsored the Tibetan Medical Centre and continues to support it as part of their corporate social responsibility.

Kemwell is a contract biologics development and CDMO company providing services to global biologics organizations. Kemwell facilities, located in Bengaluru, are designed and developed with technological support from a leading German pharma company. Established in 1980, it has had long term associations with pharma majors such as Bayer, GlaxoSmithKline, Merck KGaA, Novartis, Pfizer and others for small molecule contract manufacturing and R&D.

In an exclusive interview with The CSR Journal, Karan Bagaria talks about the growing importance of the Biopharma industry after the COVID-19 pandemic.

1. Kemwell Biopharma is a CDMO. What is the scope of CDMOs in the biopharmaceutical industry?

CDMO stands for Contract Development and Manufacturing Organisation, which in the biopharmaceutical industry plays a vital role to bridge the gap between demand and supply. Given the long lead times in the industry for developing and getting regulatory approval of products, coupled with the high capex investments required for building and maintaining manufacturing plants, CDMOs help to aggregate demand from many customers and offer better economics, thus overall reducing the costs of medicines to the end consumer.

2. What is your company’s participation in the vaccines and treatments for COVID-19?

At Kemwell, we have partnered with a leading biopharmaceutical company to make an antibody that is used in the treatment of COVID-19 patients and the first few batches will be released in the market soon. This is for an existing approved product, and Kemwell is supporting by adding capacity for additional supplies to meet the demand. We continue to look at other monoclonal antibody therapies for COVID-19, where we could use our existing infrastructure to meet the demand. We must also not forget that the Pharma and Biopharma industry must continue to supply products for other chronic and non-chronic diseases besides for COVID-19. The Kemwell team has, in this regard, continued operations right throughout the pandemic, without shutting down facilities, to support our customers for their medical needs

The pharmaceutical and biopharmaceutical industry have gained never-before-seen importance since the global pandemic. Do you agree?

The Pharma industry has been around for many decades, but at a global level the relevance this pandemic has created has never been seen before. Every individual in the world has been affected in some capacity by this pandemic and has turned to the global Pharma industry to find solutions, fast. It is incredible to see that so many companies have combined their capabilities and capacities to fight this pandemic and proven science has helped get vaccines to millions of people around the world in a short period of time. The biopharmaceutical industry is well poised to use new technologies like monoclonal antibodies, fusion proteins, cell therapy and gene therapy to combat the different challenges patients face today. We will see the next wave of customised medicine using such technologies. Kemwell is already working on multiple such technologies like fusion proteins for novel biologics and has recently set up a state-of-the-art cGMP cell therapy plant.

4. What were your contributions during the first and second waves in India?

The foundation worked closely with several hospitals by supporting them with Covid relief funds for needy patients. We also distributed ration kits to the needy, and PPE kits to frontline staff and cremation workers.

Some of the larger projects we are supporting are:

  • Patients with Kidney Disease
    Dialysis – as we are all aware – is an expensive but critical treatment for those who need it. We have supported Bangalore Kidney Foundation with a large number of free dialysis for patients who have lost jobs due to the pandemic. We have also helped augment the infrastructure of BKF with cardiac monitors, ECG machines, pulse oximeters and other equipment to reach out to more needy patients.
  • Paediatric ICU- holding bay
    This is a CSR initiative supported by our work with Aster Hospital. A plug and play ICU with 5 beds were set up in a record time of a week. This is exclusively for children who came in with Covid or Covid complications. This is a free service, where children were taken care of immediately on reaching the hospital.

Tell us about the cancer institute and paediatric care unit you’ve set up in Bengaluru as part of your CSR.

Shankara Cancer Care focuses on helping needy patients. Treatment given by the hospital is affordable and sometimes free for all needy patients. We have helped in setting up infrastructure at the hospital for several years and also supported this centre during the pandemic with ventilators and infusion syringe pumps to tide over the 2nd wave and be prepared for the 3rd wave. One of the world’s largest NICUs was set up in collaboration with Narayana Hospital in Bengaluru. Here thousands of underprivileged children are treated and the best of care is given by the hospital to the underprivileged

6. How did the association with the Dalai Lama on the Tibetan Medical Centre happen?

My grandfather and father were big followers of His Holiness the Dalai Lama. My father had met him during one of his visits to Bengaluru, and that’s when he asked him about setting up a clinic in Bengaluru that follows Tibetan Medicine. This is an Ayurvedic treatment and is longer-term than we usually see with allopathy. The side effects are minimal or zero in treating various diseases. The doctors are trained well by the main centre and hospital. We continue to support the centre so it can provide free or subsidised services for the patients.

7. India is the only country that has made CSR mandatory by law. Will this improve the country’s development where it’s most needed?

Yes, I think generally the culture in India is a giving culture. By making it a law, the government has enabled a more formal structure where companies can support society and help elevate India out of its difficulties.

8. How do you offset carbon emissions? What other activities for climate change action are in the pipeline?

In its over 40 years of existence, Kemwell has been driven to help the environment. From ensuring we meet and follow all the guidelines, Kemwell has tried to be a leader in terms of minimising environmental impact. Some of the projects we have undertaken over the many years include –

  • Green initiative to plant trees and plants across the campus, neighbourhood and villages.
  • Upgraded our boiler from fossil fuel to brisket (husk) boiler.
  • Use green power sources like hydro, solar. Today more than 80% of our power is sourced through a solar plant which is owned by Kemwell. We continue to evaluate projects to see how else we could facilitate climate change action.

9. How does your organisation ensure gender diversity at all levels?

Kemwell is an equal opportunity employer. We are trying to create a culture to help ensure that both genders are given the opportunity to participate at all levels and functions of the organisation by applying best practices. We ensure that our hiring, appraisals and training policies are inclusive of the needs of both genders.

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