Sunday, August 30, 2009

rDNA tech products

The above picture is interesting. The fish are called glofish. They are genetically altered fish using rDNA technologies, so they can glow! These genetically modified fish are approved by US FDA. Recombinant animals, pharmaceutical products, and foods are closer to you than you think! I got the above image from here.

Technology platforms are the springboards for creating new products that provide marketing successes. For eg., capsule technology has created many pharmaceutical formulations of various drugs, and big businesses are built on the capsule technology platform. Today, the most robust futuristic technology platform for mega business prospects is rDNA technology. The market is still not crowded, there are hefty margins. There is no commoditization in this field like chemical or natural ingredient based pharmaceuticals or healthcare products. rDNA tech is still mysterious to many.

rDNA stands for recombinant DNA (deoxyribose nucleic acid)

DNA is the name of a molecule that occurs in the nuclei of cells. It also occurs in viruses (that do not have nuclei). DNA is the fundamental molecule of life. It has information in the form of codes for all the characteristics or traits of an organism. For eg., actress Aishwarya Rai has a DNA code in her cell for her beautiful eyes.

DNA molecules combine with certain proteins to become chromosomes. The chromosomes are stained easily by certain dyes and stand out when seen through microscope. The 46 chromosomes (ie., 23 pairs) in the human cell refers to the 3 billion base pairs of DNA. Chromosomes are made up of DNA. The no. of chromosomes are fixed for a species. For eg., human cells have 23 pairs or 46 chromosomes. Potato cells have 48 chromosomes. Rabbit has 44 chromosomes.

Similarly, genes are parts of the DNA molecule. A gene is a sequence of the DNA molecule. Normally, a single gene codes for a specific trait.

So, to summarize:

DNA - the basic information molecule with a double helical structure in humans, makes up the chromosomes. Genes are parts of the DNA molecule.

So each portion of a DNA molecule codes for something - a trait or a process in the cell. If you identify and isolate a portion of the DNA molecule responsible for say producing insulin and introduce it in to the genetic structure of a compatible bacterium or yeast cell, then it is possible that the host bacterium or yeast cell will start manufacturing insulin and express it in large quantities out of the cell in to the fluid outside. Or the insulin may remain in the cytoplasm of the host cell.

The insulin thus manufactured by the yeast or bacterium cell can then be extracted out, isolated, purified, suitably formulated, and administered to patients.

This is crudely the rDNA tech process...

rDNA concept

As the word implies, the word recombinant refers to an organism or cell in which genetic recombination (new genetic combination) has been done. New genetic combinations occur naturally during reproduction (recombination) in the offspring. The offspring has new genetic combinations that are not present in the parents. So genetic recombination does occur in nature through reproduction.

Today, scientists use rDNA technology to do what nature does - ie., create new genetic combinations in cells. rDNA technology creates new genetic combinations usually in yeasts like Sachharomyces cerevisiae or bacteria like Escherichia coli using certain genetic engineering techniques. Thus, an alteration in genetic structure of the yeast cell or bacterium is done using rDNA technology.


In the pharmaceutical field, this genetic modification is done, to use the 'new yeast cells' or the 'new bacterium' to manufacture large quantities of therapeutic chemicals - usually proteins - that have health and commercial value. These therapeutic proteins expressed by the genetically modified yeast cells or bacteria are extracted, formulated usually in ampoules for injections, and marketed to doctors for administration to suitable patients.

Role of enzymes in creating rDNA tech products

Enzymes (all enzymes are proteins) are important chemical reactants or accelerators of chemical reactions that are used in large quantities to manufacture the rDNA tech products. The types of enzymes used are mainly restriction enzymes (that scissor DNA strands at specific points), and ligases (that restitch the DNA). Thus, the rDNA tech is an interplay of DNA, and enzymes.

To put the rDNA concept in an over simplified form, the required DNA sequence (that codes for say manufacturing insulin, the peptide or proteinaceous hormone) is cut out and stitched in to the DNA of a compatible yeast cell or bacterium. This genetically modified yeast or bacterium cell then starts manufacturing the protein of pharmaceutical interest (for eg., insulin the peptide hormone).

For eg., recombinant insulin and recombinant erythropoietin are two popular rDNA tech products.

rDNA human insulin is manufactured usually using Escherichia coli (a gram negative bacterium) or sometimes yeast. The manufacturing is through a complex process utilizing DNA synthesizers, fermenter tanks, centrifuges etc.

rDNA erythropoietin is used to stimulate production of red blood cells in the management of anemia due to chronic kidney disease and cancer chemotherapy. In 2007 the market for this product (erythropoietin stimulating agents market) was 11.7 billion USD. Basically, it is reckoned that rDNA tech based pharma product market is multibillion.

There are many types of rDNA products - they are mainly proteins such as hormones, insulin and blood factors.

DNA synthesizers

DNA synthesizers have their origin in the human genome project. This was the international scientific project that mapped the entire human genetic information. The human genome project determined the complete structure of the human DNA molecule and the functions. rDNA technology has its roots in the methods used in the human genome project. DNA synthesizers too are based on the methods used by scientists of the human genome project.

DNA synthesizers are machines that use a strand of DNA as a blueprint and they manufacture required DNA strands in large quantities that are in turn used in rDNA tech product manufacture.

rDNA tech is applied in agriculture too

Bt cotton and Bt brinjal are important rDNA tech based agri products. Bt crops contain nonplant genes in plants. Bt stands for Bacillus thuringiensis. This bacterium produces crystal proteins that are lethal to insect larvae. Thus, Bt crystal protein genes (ie., bacterial genes) have been transferred to cotton, soya, brinjal, and corn using rDNA techniques so that these plants can produce the crystal proteins to protect themselves from pests like American boll worm and European corn borer. Hence, Bt cotton and Bt brinjal are described as pest resistant plants. These are exceptional plants that contain bacterial genes for pest resistance.

Hence, Bt brinjal is called a GM food (genetically modified food). Are they safe? Is it safe for my children to consume good quantities of GM Bt brinjal regularly? Well, the commercial marketers of Bt brinjal claim it to be safe!!

Mind you, rDNA tech based pharmaceutical products have to undergo a battery of preclinical and clinical trials, and continue to have a long term phase 4 postmarketing surveillance clinical study to monitor safety and efficacy. But GM foods have none of this!!

Whether one likes or dislikes, technological change is a part of modern society. rDNA tech products are making their sure entry in to pens of prescribers. They are high value products with high growth. They address the medical management needs of clinicians not addressed earlier. So it is important that the Indian pharma industry continues appreciating this rDNA tech platform to power ahead in the field of biosimilars and biotech products.

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Friday, August 28, 2009

More and more talking points


There is no doubt good salesmen are good listeners (after all active listening is a major part of communication process), however, the sheet anchor of marketing messaging is good talking points. Marketers are always on the hunt for good talking points, prospects, customers, and target markets. Talking points need to be keenly developed from the point of view of recipient and sender. If there is a great talking point, which is not properly understood by the salesman, and hence, is not put across by the sender or salesman to the doctor, then the talking point becomes a dud. So talking points should be appreciated by the sender and ought to be attractive to the recipient too.

Marketers are forever looking for creative and crafty ways of messaging. This is because differentiation in the messaging process and in the message itself, is very vital for brand registration and unaided brand recall.

In pharma marketing, the core talking points are usually from pharmacology (particularly clinical science of the drug). Doctors appreciate the talking points of pharma products based on safety, efficacy, and patient convenience. Hence, pharma marketers endeavor to provide talking points on the above aspects that they believe will persuade prospect doctors, customer doctors, and help in engineering favourable brand prescribing habits.

The importance of pharmaceutics

Pharmacology and 'clinical science' are no doubt important pillars for development of pharma marketing talking points. However,the discipline of pharmaceutics also has a lot to offer for good marketing talking points. Pharmaceutics is a critical science that converts a 'drug into medicine'. Pharmaceutics is a vast subject involved in design and formulation of suitable drug delivery dosage forms. Pharmaceutics creates the means of administering drugs into the body in a safe, efficient, reproducible, and convenient manner.

Dialogue with the formulation guys

Marketers are normally glued to market conversations and market feedbacks to constantly refine strategies. Similarly, the formulation guys are in another sector working out the formulations based on the chemistry of the drug and pharma technologies. There are often no meeting grounds between the marketers and formulators. They formulate and we market the formulations - this seems to be the usual working rule.

When marketers are in touch with the formulation guys mirroring the market feedbacks, the formulators obviously will be receiving another dimension of inputs for their work. Similarly, the formulation personnel can bounce back to pharma marketers, certain formulation subtleties that enhance safety, efficacy, and patient convenience.

There are many formulation parameters that can help provide the marketing edge. Lupin had launched their brand of atorvastatin in the form of a heart-shaped tablet. This was a simple formulation feature that helped marketers gain more mindshare of the target doctors. Emcure has been talking a lot about their flash technology for some time now, which helps in faster disintegration of tablets. Nimulid (Nimesulide from Panacea Biotec) has a pharmaceutics based talking point: Nimulid has a rapid dissolution (can dissolve in the mouth and the patient need not drink water to consume the tablet). These unique pharmaceutics based talking points help in creating memory pegs in the doctor's mind for better mindshare and marketshare.


Particle size of the drug plays a major role in the flow and compression properties during manufacturing. Particle size also influences dissolution profiles. For example, when poorly soluble drugs have a reduced particle size their surface area increases. This improves dissolution by increasing wettability (due to enhanced surface area).

Chemical agents in the formulation that help in rapid disintegration of the tablet will help reduce the time of absorption of the drug.

There are also special polymers that act as carriers for drugs across the gut membrane improving bioavailability (or amount and rate of drug available in the systemic blood stream from a given dosage formulation). Such polymers have been used in Becosules Z (multivitamin zinc capsules from Pfizer) to improve vitamin absorption in the small intestines.

Crystal habit refers to the external shape of the crystals (eg. of drugs). For instance, Ciprofloxacin a fluoroquinolone antibiotic is available as needle shaped and plate shaped crystals. Obviously, crystal habit influences rate of dissolution.

When we compare a long needle shaped crystal and a spherical shaped crystal, their crystal habit differ. The surface area of needle shaped crystal is 2.7 times that of spherical shaped crystal (if they have the same mass). As the surface area of the needle shaped crystal is more than the sphere, the needle shaped crystal will dissolve much faster.

Yet needle shaped crystals may not always be the answer as tablets may crumble due to lack of compaction strength, as in the case of paracetamol needle shaped crystals. However, if you have a paracetamol tablet or suspension that is stable and full of fast dissolving needle shaped crystals, then you have a talking point with the doctor. Of course, there are doctors who will also want to have clinical evidence on this point. Nevertheless, there is scope for differentiation in the messaging content through use of pharmaceutics.

Formulation scientists will be able to deliver cutting edge pharma products through application of pharma technologies that are marketing friendly - if marketers share and discuss market insights, competitor data, and market trends with the pharmaceutics professionals. And this, in turn, will contribute to creating better talking points for the marketed product.

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Sunday, August 9, 2009

Learning from the zoozoos


The perennial & timeless questions haunting marketers: How to gain more and more customers? How to retain existing customers?

In the present world where almost every market is a buyer's market, these questions are all the more relevant!

Product promotional campaigns make a big difference to sales. This is true of every product - pharma or otherwise. The recent promotional campaign to capture popular interest is Vodafone's zoozoo campaign. Nirvana films of Bangalore invented these cute characters (by the way, they are not animations!) to carry forth the message of Vodafone's value added services. The zoozoo campaign has been viewed on 'You Tube' by lakhs and has captured the popular imagination. The zoozoos have created the buzz. The zoozoos have strengthened word-of-mouth messaging for Vodafone. The zoozoo based promotional campaign has achieved significant mindshare among target audiences. In today's world of promotional clutter and brand warfare this is a milestone achievement.

The zoozoo appeal is such that zoozoo merchandise sales has picked up - particularly zoozoo T shirts. People are paying to be a part of the zoozoo (an advertiser's creation!) world! During the recent rakhi festival (where the girl ties a rakhi to the wrist of her brother(s)) zoozoo rakhis were quite a craze!

Why are the zoozoos popular?

In fact, the zoozoos are so popular that the phrase 'ZOOZOO EFFECT' is fast emerging to represent all that is innovative and catchy.

Marketing pundits would certainly like to have an answer to this question - why are zoozoos so popular?

Firstly, they are cute. Now how would you characterize cuteness? Well, they generate instant smiles and happiness. They attract. Probably their visual appeal and antics generate instant increase in levels of 'happy chemicals' in the brain like endorphins and serotonin. The egghead zoozoos absorb your attention. When you look at the zoozoos, they capture instant attention and for a few moments you are lost observing them and their antics. There is just sheer observation by the viewer - there is no judgment forming behavior in the crucial initial few moments. That is the high level of engagement and delight that the zoozoos generate on viewers. And the key to their cuteness lies in the above aspects.

The name ZOOZOO is extremely catchy! How true ! In this world where we are bombarded with new and complex words every minute, the word ZOOZOO comes as a breath of fresh air. It is simple, catchy and the sound is very positive.

The name and presentation of these zoozoo characters has made all the difference for Vodafone. Prior to this campaign Vodafone had become popular through the dog PUG in their advertisements, and now the zoozoos have renewed interest in the brand Vodafone.

The message as the product

Today the creation of a message carrying advt does not automatically guarantee viewership or listening or otherwise successful message transfer. There is a message glut out there in the market. This is true in pharma markets and nonpharma markets. Hence, the messaging tool should be visualized as a product that needs to be consumed. Thus, if the visual aid or leave behind literature is made for the pharma market, there is no guarantee that the input will impart the message to the target doctor or chemist UNLESS THE INPUT HAS THE ZOOZOO EFFECT! The promo input should at the first sight itself instill a state of complete attention in the recipient. Capturing attention is the first step to successful message transfer in the AIDA process (Attention, Interest, Desire and Action).

The zoozoos are very important components of messaging - as they have high level of engagement with the target audience, the brand Vodafone has become all the more popular. It has aided instant brand recall for Vodafone. The zoozoos are brand ambassadors that have helped Vodafone climb up the brand recall ladder.

The creation of such customer engagement tools in pharma and nonpharma communication strategies will surely fetch better business results.

Zoozoos have become as iconic as the SMILEYS. They act as memory pegs reinforcing the brand recall of Vodafone. Memory pegs are vital for brand recall and prescribing or purchasing habits. The success of zoozoos is a reminder to all pharma and nonpharma marketers that simplicity and attractiveness scores over complexity. KISS is a popular acronym - Keep It Short & Simple!! THANK YOU ZOOZOOS FOR ALL THE SMILES!!

The zoozoo concept is highly versatile

The zoozoos can be carriers of diverse messages. For eg., keeping in with the current Swine flu trend, zoozoos can become inventive to give out some VODAFONE ZOOZOO SWINE FLU GYAN! A Dr. Zoozoo can provide messages on hygiene and practices to prevent spread of Influenza A (N1H1) or swine flu. The Dr. Zoozoo can provide healthy tips like (a) use mouth masks (b) do not share handkerchiefs (c) while sharing the mobile phone or any other gadget wipe the gadget before giving it to the friend (d) visit the doctor if flu-like symptoms show up etc.

The zoozoo has the potential to become a friend in need is a friend indeed! Perhaps after Asian Paint's Guttu, Air India's mascot Maharajah and Ram and Shyam pair of Poppins, no other brand icon has generated such excitement and engagement! Zoozoos have demonstrated great marketing and messaging potency, which should translate in better customer conversions for Vodafone.

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Sunday, August 2, 2009

Welcome to India!!


Intrepid foreign travelers to India today, are stunned to experience the cultural richness, diversity, and also amused at the general state of dirtiness, dustiness, and disorder or rather the 'order in the chaos of India'! In the past centuries, traveling to the Indian subcontinent was much sought after by foreigners (for eg., when India was ruled by the Britishers, the Britishers had to 'bribe' authorities in Britain to get a posting in India!). The way Indians today, hanker to go abroad to countries like America, 'Europe' and Australia (?), in earlier times foreigners would love to come to this land. They would either come to the Indian subcontinent to trade or learn (study) or, invade and loot this land, or settle down here. Comparatively, during those times, the Indian subcontinent was a very wealthy land. The Britishers (and other European colonizers) were attracted to the Indianland because of its rich resources and the large market. India was also a large producer of value added products like spices, cloth, gold products, herbal medicines, agro products etc. The Britishers came as traders through the East India Company and finally colonized the nation. The Indian land was a very wealthy, knowledgeable, culturally rich and spiritually tantalizing large subcontinent. Perhaps no other country was as wealthy, learned, or attractive and powerful as the Indian subcontinent then. Politically, the subcontinent was highly fragmented with many Maharajahs and Moslem nawabs ruling thier kingdoms. Obviously, the rulers were busy with their wives, luxuries, and invading each other rather than co-operating with each other. There was also a cultural contradiction - Indian land at the same time then was always a very accomodative country, and it lacked a very powerful militarily aggressive spirit or aggressive self-defense. Perhaps the lack of co-ordination between rulers in the Indian land then, lack of an aggressive self-defence, and over-accomodativeness led to its political fall to foreign rulers, and, economic and cultural ruin. Finally, an Independent India rose to existence in 1947 (at the stroke of the midnight hour of 15th August; our Independence day is round the corner).

Today, the West is once again coming to India - albeit for a different reason - Health (or medical) tourism. India offers the best of surgical facilities and the best holidaying 'convalescence' experiences for recovering from the medical treatment. While India is a fast emerging hub for procedures like knee replacement surgery, dental procedures, cardiovascular surgeries, etc - there is one more reason why India is alluring - YOGA AND AYURVEDA. This is the differentiator or USP (Unique Selling Preposition) of the Indian healthcare tourism industry.

India's medical tourism industry is growing at a zipping rate of 30%, by 2015 it is projected to becoming a Rs. 9500 crores biz. This link reiterates that the present Indian healthcare industry is a sunrise sector and is projected to reach a size of 75 billion USD (by 2012) from the present 35 billion USD. Likewise the pharmaceutical industry will also go places. While Chennai gets the lion share of the medical tourism business in India; Mumbai, Delhi and Bangalore are gradually increasing their share of global medical travellers. While the cherry picking biz of Indian healthcare sector is serving international medical tourists, there are huge healthcare problems in India as a whole.

Rise and rise of Yoga

India is a country of surprises. When the Indian society gets pulled down due to corruption and weakness, there come very powerful souls who galvanize Indians in to action, and cleanse the Indian society. When there was a lot of cultural drain in India, a prodigious soul - Adi Shankaracharya awoke the Indian society. In the 19th century, when again India was culturally going down, Swami Vivekananda arose and galvanized the country in to positive action. Today a powerful soul is creating a Yoga revolution - Baba Ramdev. His approach is dynamic and scientific. He speaks the language of medical science when propagating Yoga and Ayurveda. He extols and practices scientific documentation, research and development, for practice of Yoga and Ayurveda. The scale of scientific growth he is creating for Yoga and Ayurveda is unparalleled and has never happened before in India. His approach is practical, straight forward, open minded, and challenging. The net result is a remarkable growth of the Yoga and Ayurveda market. This century promises to be the century of Yoga and Ayurveda.

This trend has a lot of implications to healthcare and pharmaceutical marketers. From the time frame of 5 to 10 years, the demand for products like nutritional supplements eg., Amla juice, Aloe vera juice, etc will grow at geometric proportions. No doubt Patanjali Yogpeeth (the organization of Swami Ramdev) is creating a huge market (market building) for such healthcare products, however, as the market expands and acceptance of such products increases, the demand will outpace the supply of such quality and dependable healthcare products.

Globally speaking, the age of INTEGRATIVE MEDICINE is getting a fillip, and the genuine evidence based nutritional or dietary supplement market is seeing a major boost. Time to take note of this trend!! Yogic & Ayurvedic (herbal) India shining!!

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