Exploring Athena Pharmaceutiques Strategic Choice: India's Role in the Global Pharmaceutical Landscape

Discover the interview with Alexandre Williams, Director of Athena Pharmaceutiques and a pharmaceutical industry expert with experience in Europe, the Middle East, and Asia.

UJA | Alexandre Williams
Alexandre Williams

Director of Athena Pharmaceutiques and a pharmaceutical industry expert with experience in Europe, the Middle East, and Asia.

UJA: What factors influenced your decision to expand Athena’s operations into India? Are there specific advantages or opportunities you saw in the Indian pharmaceutical market?

Alexandre Williams: I did not choose India; rather, India chose me. India is a world leader in pharmaceutical product development and manufacturing. India produces 20% of the world’s  pharmaceuticals. In my former company, Ethypharm, I was already following India. In 2002, the operations in India were reported to me. At the time, I was in China and had been given responsibility for the Indian business. In 2006, I returned to France to oversee global operations, including India.
I was given the task because there was a management gap. On the French side, they assumed India and China worked similarly, but this was not true in many aspects.

Etypharm had decided to focus on Europe and China while pausing operations in India, and in October 2011, we decided to acquire the Indian operation and rename it Athena Drug Delivery Solutions, where I joined as the general manager.

We are now established in five countries, working with pharmaceutical industries all around the world.

UJA: India is known for its robust pharmaceutical industry. What was Athena Pharmaceutique's strategy to differentiate itself and thrive in such a competitive manufacturing market?

Alexandre Williams: The first few years were just about surviving. We knew how to develop the product, so we kept doing what we were doing before: industrial scale-up, commercial supplies, prototype development, and product launch while enhancing quality and international standards.

We concentrated on manufacturing and packaging, R&D, and regulatory activities outside of India. 

Because of our extensive experience in drug delivery, Athena has created a number of products with client-specific drug release characteristics. We provide finished, semi-finished, and bulk packs as needed. Athena received EU-GMP approval in 2014. 

The key strategy remains to improve the quality of our development and dossier proposals.

UJA: Are there any unique challenges you've encountered in India's pharmaceutical landscape?

Alexandre Williams: In the start, it was all about survival. We began slowly, unsure whether we would be able to pay salaries. The banks were quite helpful. We did everything we could to remain operational. It positively took 5 years. On the business side, I was confident that we would fare well despite the market’s ups and downs.

Living in India with my wife and children was also a significant cultural transition for us. The major risk at the time was determining whether my family would be comfortable living in India, and thankfully, my wife agreed to it.

UJA: India is known for its cost-effective manufacturing capabilities. How has this aspect influenced Athena Drugs' global supply chain and cost-effectiveness?

Alexandre Williams: The Indian operation is doing extremely well; I cannot complain. Last year, we opened a new R&D sector in Mumbai with state-of-the-art equipment for solid oral dosage. 

In India, we already have one factory. We are planning to purchase a new facility in India in the next few months. The issue is in the French pharma market because of the high cost. After COVID-19 and the energy crisis in Europe, there was a significant impact.
Manufacturing in France is less ideal than in India because of the existing energy crisis and the difficulty of recruiting easily experienced staff. The French pharma market is now stagnant, and I do not expect this to change very soon.

UJA:From a strategic standpoint, how does India fit into Athena Drugs' broader global expansion plans and corporate objectives?

Alexandre Williams: We don’t sell as much in India as we do in Europe, Canada, Brazil, Russia, South Africa, and other emerging markets. From India, the target is not to export to all regulated markets.

We do have strategic plans to launch 20 new products in both advanced and emerging markets in the coming years, and despite our small size, we follow the same approach as some multinational companies.

UJA: India also has a significant talent pool in the pharmaceutical and life sciences sectors. Can you discuss how Athena Drugs has leveraged this talent pool for research, development, and manufacturing efforts?

Alexandre Williams: My interest is in the pharma industry network in India, as I am in an export-oriented private industry.

I started from a small base; starting from 0 can be challenging, but with time and the right people making a good team, we progressed.
India has the market and infrastructure, but the real wealth of India is the people. I would not have survived in India without the Indian team, owing to the Indian competence in pharmacy, openness, and exploration. The pharma industry has a lot of highly skilled people with a niche background, and that’s what we looked for while recruiting them.
People are hard-working in India, and we have over 250 development and manufacturing workers in Mumbai, India.

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