A new Indian entrepreneur millionaire has been minted in India’s drugs and pharmaceutical business, which has been in the spotlight during the pandemic.

Indian entrepreneur Satyanarayana Chava, 60, the founder and CEO of Laurus Labs, a $658 million (revenue) integrated pharma and biotech company that creates everything from pharma components to enzymes and proteins, had his personal net worth surpass $1.1 billion this week as the company’s stock rose. In the last year, the stock has increased by 176 percent.

Laurus Labs provides pharmaceutical ingredients for HIV, cancer, asthma, and diabetes medications. According to Laurus Labs, one out of every three HIV-infected patients in low and middle-income nations is using medications containing Laurus Labs components. Some of the world’s largest pharmaceutical companies buy pharma intermediates, generics, and contract manufacturing research services from Laurus.

The company reported a 70% increase in revenue and a 286 percent increase in net profit to 9.8 billion rupees ($135 million) for the fiscal year ended March 31, 2021, boosted by increased demand for pharmaceutical ingredients, capacity expansions, and improved operational efficiencies.

Indian entrepreneur Chava chose to start his own company in 2005, at the age of 44, after more than two decades in the pharmaceutical industry. He established Laurus as a pharmaceutical R&D company in his hometown of Hyderabad. To raise the initial capital of 600 million rupees ($14 million), he pooled his savings, borrowed money from friends and relatives, and took out bank loans.

The name “Laurus” was chosen by Indian entrepreneur Chava as an homage to the botanical term for a group of Mediterranean shrubs and trees, as well as the Greek tradition of honouring victorious warriors with laurel wreaths. Chava explains, “We wanted the company to signify evergreen victory.”

“It always has to begin with R&D,” Chava, who still spends 25% of his time in labs, says of his philosophy of starting with research. “At heart, I’m a scientist. Chemistry is something I’m quite interested in.” In 145 patents given to the corporation, he is named as an inventor alongside others.

Laurus presently has R&D centres in Hyderabad, Visakhapatnam, and the United States, as well as eight FDA-approved factories in southern India that contract manufacture active pharmaceutical ingredients and intermediates.

Indian entrepreneur Chava also takes an active role in the launch of new items. Chava, who has brought more than 50 goods to market in the last 15 years, says, “I work on what product we should go after since that will ultimately determine how well we are doing.”

Indian entrepreneur Chava claims to be unconcerned with his billionaire position. He attributes his down-to-earth approach to his modest origins, saying, “It’s only one component of life—not it’s the whole thing.”

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Indian entrepreneur Chava grew up in Munnaluru, a village on the banks of the Krishna River in the Indian state of Andhra Pradesh. (His parents are still residing there.) Every day, he walked six miles to school in the nearby community. Chava’s interest in chemistry began in college, leading to a Ph.D. in bioactive marine natural products and a career as a university instructor.

In 1993, he started his first corporate position as a research assistant at Ranbaxy Laboratories, which was later acquired by Sun Pharmaceuticals, owned by pharma millionaire Dilip Shanghvi. He moved to Matrix Labs, a developer of pharma components for HIV medications, in 1995 and worked in several departments for the next decade, eventually becoming COO. In 2006, Mylan, a global pharmaceutical company, acquired Matrix.

Today, Indian entrepreneur Chava says his goal for Laurus, who is 16 years old, is to keep the company’s entrepreneurial spirit alive. “In our thought, action, and speed of execution, we believe we are a startup,” he continues. The main problem for the organisation as it prepares for expansion, he believes, is people. “We have the money and the business,” he continues, “but the key is attracting, finding, training, and retaining talent.” Laurus is collaborating with local universities to develop industry-relevant courses.

Indian entrepreneur Chava spends his time in the kitchen, making biryani and Indian sweets like gulab jamun, mysore pak, and kheer, when he isn’t pondering business strategy or experimenting with chemical ingredients. He declares, “I believe all chemists are good cooks.” Not all billionaires, perhaps.

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