‘We are growing stronger’

‘We are growing stronger’

The concept of HiVeg culture media further increased its credibility and reliability in the scientific community. Dr Vishal Warke, Director-R&D (cell culture and immunology), HiMedia Laboratories tells Sachin Jagdale more about the concept and the company

What are the advantages of animal free culture media over culture media with animal origin?

There are three main advantages. Firstly, there is absolutely no fear of prion contamination in animal free culture media, therefore the transmission of Mad Cow Disease and occurrence of the fatal Creutzfeldt Jacobs Disease (CJD) in humans is avoided. As it is a well known fact today that there have been many fatalities, especially in the western world due to consumption of abnormal prion containing beef, there is a general shift to phasing out of animal origin media (AOM) from every aspect of the pharma industry, including testing labs.

Second advantage is that many regulatory bodies such as USFDA and others have tightened their requirements to ensure that no prion can enter the final product for therapeutic use. When using AOM, it is quite a task to convince auditors who ask for all necessary validations. However, with HiVeg many of these issues are taken care off automatically, making life quite easy for pharma companies. Plus, for something as critical as media fill test for sterile parenterals, there is always a concern that AOM if contaminated with prions can cause residual carryover into the product, leading to a fatal outbreak of CJD.

The third advantage is that currently, we also have animal free or rather serum free cell culture media for Chinese hamster ovary (CHO) cells, baby hamster kidney (BHK) cells and Vero cells, which are very affordable, easily available and with a very good performance. These are mainly useful for the biopharmaceutical and vaccine manufacturing industries.

From the revenue point of view, how successful is the concept of HiVeg culture media? Does it really offer something different for users that animal culture media might not offer? How would you balance the production of both types of products?

The concept of HiVeg is very revolutionary and has been very successful. In fact, we are the only company in the world today to not only offer a complete range of 22 HiVeg peptones, but also to provide 750 microbiology culture media using HiVeg peptones.

HiVeg is unique in its offerings to the users. Firstly, in a country like India many people are concerned about cow slaughter, and HiVeg, being from vegetarian sources such as wheat, corn, soya, pea etc, is non-violent and eco friendly.

Secondly, the results obtained with HiVeg are superior to those with animal originated media (AOM), in terms of bacterial colony morphology, size, and especially pigmentation. Plants are a source of complex carbohydrates and some other compounds that animals lack, and these being present in HiVeg give superior results over AOM.

Thirdly, the HiVeg media being ‘Mad Cow Disease Free’ (additionally many other animal diseases are also avoided), makes the life of scientists and technicians much simpler and easier when they have to face audits and convince GMP, FDA audits.

Fourthly, it is easier for companies to market their products in India as well as abroad since they can claim that their products are made with and facilities are tested using HiVeg media. In short they can claim to have a complete animal free production facility and testing.

We are ramping up our HiVeg production to more than 20 times our present capacity. Our state-of-the-art facility exclusively dedicated to HiVeg production will be functional soon and we aim to cater to the global burgeoning media and peptone requirements with this facility.

Tell us about the cost effectiveness of HiVeg media.

It is very cost effective for all the above reasons cited. The cost of the HiVeg products is comparable to the animal based products. The cumulative savings on the cost of validation, testing etc is substantial; hence, many pharma companies in the USA also are opting for our HiVeg peptones.

How does the Hi Bio ID test kit work? Who are your clients for this product?

Hi Bio ID identification kits are test strips for identification and differentiation of organisms on the basis of biochemical tests. These kits aid in rapid identification of microorganisms. They are used in various industries where environmental isolates or contaminants have to be identified. The products are supplied with charts which help in faster interpretation of results. Soon HiMedia will be launching a reader with software where in it will give much faster interpretation.

What are the challenges for an Indian culture media company internationally?

We have to face tough competition from some leading global brands, and therefore, it keeps us fighting fit just to survive, and that makes us deliver our best to any client, be it USA, Europe, Middle East, South East Asia etc. We have carved a global niche where the ‘Made in India’ label is now deeply respected in culture media and we are proud of that. Keeping production capacity in tandem with growing demand is a challenge. Another challenge is being able to ship things in a cold chain and even frozen to 20 degree Celsius to distant parts of the world.

Describe the position of HiMedia in the Indian market of culture media.

Our position is quite strong in the global culture media market today and we are growing stronger, now that we have an exclusive joint label tie up with VWR International for USA and North America, which is a very big catalog distribution company similar to Fisher Scientific, Sigma etc. We are now providing HiMedia products to the North American scientists and customers under the HiMedia label since the last two years. Today, we are exporting to over 100 nations, which speaks volumes of our product quality and the confidence with which the users are opting for HiMedia’s products. Vendor Quality audits at site plus our quality certifications, namely, ISO 9001:2000, ISO 13485:2003, WHO GMP and CE, also help the customers to develop further confidence in our products. The basis of our strength though is a very strong focus on R&D.

Do you have other product categories? Please give us details.

We have many product categories which are quite distinct from our core of dehydrated microbiological media—animal cell culture media, plant tissue culture media, chemicals and biochemicals, molecular biology kits and reagents, standard cultures from ATCC, and ready prepared media.

The wave of biotech is today sweeping the global pharma industry. In this scenario, what role is HiMedia expected to play?

HiMedia has a key role to play in the global pharma industry. Due to excellent quality and very affordable prices many global giants are now validating our products for their captive consumption for biopharma and vaccine production. Already we are supplying microbiological and animal cell culture media and HiVeg peptones to many global pharma and biopharma companies for their vaccine and biomolecule production. Additionally, our media are used extensively for quality control and R&D applications, including critical tests such as media fill validations.

Many global competitors and major players have realised HiMedia’s strength and potential and have given us very good offers for a take over. However, we want to keep brand ‘HiMedia’ a very much an Indian product, and presently, we have declined all the offers made to us. We are upgrading our facilities to meet the increasing global demands and very soon we will be a very strong global player, who can be ignored by our competitors only at their peril.