Category Archives: Technology

Interview: Arturo Dela Pena, MD (Surgeon, Administrator, Educator, Academic)


Arturo Dela Pena, MD is the Medical Director of St. Luke’s Global City. He is a man of many hats, being an active surgeon, administrator, academic, and educator. Contrary to the serious demeanor, it always does not take long for him to crack a joke. Yet, underneath the good humor, the man is complex in a positive and interesting way: you enter his room and on his table is a Michael Cacnio sculpture of an anonymous every day man kneeling and kissing the ground to give respect to a crown of thorns. He has Ricardo Semblar’s book Maverick, which is on the radical transformation of a company in Brazil, also on his table, and this is for Dela Pena the management man. Yet under the book is The Teaching of Buddha, and only a pile of papers separate Facility Management and Safety Manual and the book Moments with God, together with the latest bulletin and journals of his medical specialty. This self-professed fan of Rod Stewart and the Beatles is deadly serious when talking about medicine and St. Luke’s Global City.

You wear many hats: educator, administrator, surgeon, academic. Which one is the more prominent one right now?

The answer of course is administration takes up most of my time, and as a consequence I have to cut down on my clinical practice, yet I cannot say it is less prominent in my life, because I give the same time to each of the patient, and without a clinical practice, I will not be in touch with the patient, which is important to my work as an administrator, and without my role as an educator in PGH, I will not be up-to-date not only with what is happening in my field, which is rapidly changing, but I will also not be up-to-date as to the kind of residents and training they are getting . The explosion of data is just incredible, and if you are teaching in front of these young people, you just have to digest the data in a way that you are unlikely to do unless you are there in front of them. All these hats are important, and I cannot say one is less over the other, as administration must constantly be informed by all these.

Yet in research, which is very important, and I am involved with the team of Dr. Adriano Laudico, I cannot say my involvement now is significant, unfortunately. But let me say Dr. Laudico and his team are doing good and significant research on the relation of female hormones to breast cancer. That is the advantage of the younger generation physicians is their training recognizes the importance of this integration of the many aspects that make a good physician. Their academic subjects even in freshman medicine are already being connected to the clinical practice. I have a daughter in 2nd year medicine, so I can see the difference.

What do you tell your daughter who is a doctor? What is the most important thing that you tell your residents that will make them good doctors?

I tell them to learn from the patient: see the patient for what is actually there. Do not just have preconceived notions of what should be or what is said in the book. This is what distinguishes a good clinician from the rest. My father is a farmer, and it is my great misfortune that I did not keep the brown bags he was sending me with his notations about his referrals. He would write in Filipino, for example, “Arturo, apologies, but this patient is asking for help. Please help and see what you can do, as she is complaining about excessive bleeding.” Later on he will ask me what was wrong with the patient, and I will say it was ectopic pregnancy. After many people have come to me through him with his brown paper bag notations, his notation would suddenly say: “This patient is having problem with excessive bleeding, please see if she needs a D & C immediately.” For some patients, later, he will have a note like; “Please see if this is appendix, and it might explode soon.” So I keep telling young doctors, keep examining patients, no matter even if you think it is a simple case of pneumonia, because the more patterns you see, the better off you are in seeing patterns, and yet you also learn that solely relying on patterns is not good, as you also learn that each patient is unique.

How did a son of a farmer become the Medical Director of St. Luke’s Global City, become a leading educator and surgeon?

You know, I recall it now and I still get goose bumps. I remember helping my father in getting copra in Talisay, Batangas, when I was a boy and I tripped: I literally found myself falling face down on horse manure. I remember the anger I had because my father could not stop laughing at me. I was so angry and crying, I said he should not laugh at me. My father said, and I still remember this very clearly, when he said: “Arturo, if you do not study hard, you will just be like me and you will have to work with manure. If you do not want to be like me, only by doing well in school can you become different from me. Or else you will be like me, and your son will be like you.” You know, that turned my life around, and I am convinced, if my father had the privilege of having studied all the way in school, he would have been a great intellectual.

Thankfully you were still able to study in FEU for medicine. How were you able to afford it?

I got to use the education benefits that my father had because he was a guerrilla during the war. My father had a town mate who was the college secretary of FEU and so we decided I should go there. The youngest sister of my father also married a lawyer, and they helped and housed me. They were my parents here in Manila.

What is exciting you in the medical profession right now?

Everything excites me. The opportunities in medicine right now are quantitatively and qualitatively very different from when I was a young surgeon. We are now in a position to improve patient care.

So this is the about the generational change in leadership?

Yes and no. Yes, Dr. Edgardo Cortez our President and CEO is a real visionary. He is really implementing brave and innovative changes in the hospital. But aside from the generational shift, there is more competition, so everybody has to shape up, at the same time there is more data available, so there are real metrics from which you could measure the performance of an organization. This is all changing medicine and hospital administration in the country, all to the betterment of the patient.

Yet it is not just the generation shift in leadership that excites me. The developments in medicine, the speed at which we are beginning to understand diseases, it is astounding. The time may really come when we can predict diseases in a person long before any manifestation is apparent.

There are those who are saying, the competition, due to the entry of conglomerates in the hospital business, are also escalating prices for the patients. What do you think?

Yes, that is true, they are escalating their prices, because they are in health care for profit. That is fine, but also, because you want them to put money in health care to improve health care. Yet we also realize, doctors’ owned hospitals, non-profits, religious-owned hospitals, public hospitals, they also provide another vision of health care, not just the bottom line and excellent service, and I am proud and happy with St. Luke’s Global in that our vision is not just profit, although I have to say, any hospital that is not profitable, except for a government hospital, is not sustainable as the expenses are big and constant. Doctors have, I would like to believe, a different take on running a hospital, compared to, for example, a finance man, or a banker. We have I think over a thousand nurses here in St. Luke’s Global, because we have to allocate a certain number for many departments and functions for three shifts, and you also have to have a backup for the holidays and leaves that are part of the package for employment in a hospital. If you are not profitable as a hospital, it will not take long for you to close down. To say we give the highest standard of care is very easy to say, but many ingredients come into play when you want that to be a reality, from doctors, to geographic location, to the culture of the country. Finance is a big part of that mix as well, we have to admit.

Speaking of location, how are we compared to for example the United States in terms of health care?

Well, it is the most expensive health care system, and we should have learned by now that expensive doesn’t necessarily equate to quality, especially in relation to health care. It is not a question of money for me, because even if you have all the money in the world, are you using it efficiently, wisely, and logically? Because of defensive medicine in the United States, where they ask you to take a battery of test just to protect themselves from lawsuits, when in actuality you do not need the test, it is not necessarily good for you, never mind the waste in your finances. You requests these test for academic reasons? Yes, if there is a reason, but academic reason is vague and has been a blanket rational to just getting the patient to go through all the diagnostic equipment available and I don’t agree with that.

Now going back to your question about going to the United States for your health care; unfortunately health care is not like building a bridge where engineering can compute for you up to the last bag of cement that will be used. The hospital you can standardize the process, the physicians let us say we can even standardize the quality, but the patient, each patient is different from another, and how that disease will develop or evolve you cannot predict with standardization. Maybe you can predict 85 percent of the patients, but how will you know your patient is the 85 percent? For example, you can operate on a patient for breast cancer, and in your research you can do comparisons based on age, economic standing, and yet not all of them will fall into the data; yet your patient is not only not a statistic, but you don’t know which part of the statistic she falls into. Of course if the statistic says the survival rate is this, it doesn’t also mean you will die of cancer. You may die of something earlier or later for a reason totally not related to cancer that you have, so I will study the data, but I will be careful in extrapolating conclusions from the data.

The simple standard should be: there should be the same standard care you get, in the best hospitals in the United States and in the best hospitals in the Philippines, except their culture is very different from our culture. For example, in many clinics or doctor offices, you cannot just show up without an appointment. For example, our hospitals are adjusted to our culture in accommodating watchers or relatives staying overnight with the patient. In many private hospitals, we have the facilities, up to a common pantry that watchers or relatives find useful.

No doubt the United States has one of the most cost ineffective systems of health care, but with the case-rate payment scheme, it is shifting to an opposite extreme in reaction to the excesses of the past, and this has an impact on the decisions of many medical doctors. The most important is what is necessary for you to get well, and I am worried doctors may begin deciding on what is only possible based on your case rate.

Steve Jobs: did his wealth and access to the cutting –edge treatments extend his life?

Maybe. But I really don’t know the specific treatment. Difficult to answer: what measurements do you use as to the reactions of his immune system to the disease or the drugs? How can you quantify this? I know it is not a simple adenocarcinoma of the pancreas, it might be some slow acting tumor, since a neuroendocrine tumor is slower. Is it secondary to the treatment that he received? We don’t know. There is a lead time bias that is important. The latest issue of Time magazine , there is a mention about ductal carcinoma in situ ( DCIS )where it used to be treated with radiation and a removal of the breast, now no treatment is being advised, because it is now seen to be only a premalignant lesion. The disease process now is better understood, and that is also what I meant earlier that the opportunities in understanding of diseases are simply different now, and as a result better treatments are also improving rapidly.

What have you realized now as an administrator you did not know as a doctor?

When you are not part of administration, sometimes you just think of your needs, so you request for the best and latest and most branded equipment, not realizing the fact that the hospital has to spread out its income to many other needs and expenses. Running operations means more than just toys for doctors. Running a hospital also means running things efficiently and as economically as possible without compromising on the patient’s health. And this again is where metrics for service, finance, treatment outcomes all come into play.

Are you saying we have the data?

We will get there. The CEO of St. Luke’s, Dr. Cortez, made a decision of acquiring a data gathering system that will put the data in our hands. We have been going around the world looking for the best system, and we are beginning to narrow it down to only a few vendors. Of course having the best and most accurate data gathering software doesn’t mean anything if it’s too complex or tedious, then we won’t get the cooperation of doctors and nurses, and the whole thing becomes useless. We already tried to do it ourselves and to develop our operating systems, but you realize, the best hospitals and system developers took 20 or 30 years to finally get it right, so you go out and try to find a well-developed system that you can purchase.

Who are the most influential doctors in your career?

Dr. Antonio Limson and Dr. Adriano Laudico, who I always call the best chairman we never had. He was a visionary, like Dr. Limson. They had the vision to develop sub specializations in our field. They sent me to Toranomon Hospital for further studies. Of course in a way I have the best of both worlds, because PGH has the research and training, but there are limitations as well; and the opposite is what we have here in St. Luke’s, which has the private sector need for optimum efficiency, speed, and cutting-edge equipment.

Maybe this is changing? PGH has a big budget for equipment purchases.

I am not sure if a big budget necessarily equates with using your budget efficiently. In the area of purchasing for example, usually government hospitals allocate funds on the basis of democracy, when the more efficient way really is to define your strategic objective as an organization, have the whole organization buy into the vision of the leadership, and the purchases will be based on that strategic objective. I am not sure if you can run PGH on the basis of getting a wide consensus as to strategic objectives. This is not about democracy. Before you can do all that, you have to know your core competence, and you must know where you want to distinguish yourself as an organization. Strategic intent is the most basic for management to decide on purchases. But no doubt PGH has a very strong faculty.

I guess the next question will have to be what distinguishes St. Luke’s from the rest?

The leadership. The President and CEO here, Dr. Cortez, is a real innovator, and his direction is towards building a culture where people can be creative in solving problems. We have invested, through his efforts, on something that changes the treatment and chances of anyone who comes to us with ovarian cancer. Adenocarcinoma of the ovary, for example, we do chemotherapy intraoperatively, heat it up to 42 degrees and we find that the survival rate increases. Many hospitals are looking to wet lab and animal labs, but we went to Israel and bought a simulation system that helps our doctors have more opportunities in training. We are into robotics now as well.

How do you deal with death as a medical doctor?

With the patients, I think it should always be with sincere empathy, and with honesty. I have experienced the loss of my only son when he was only 21 years old, and experiencing something like that changes you in very definite ways: it is never the same anymore after something like that.

It is cruel for a doctor to give people a false sense of hope. It is unethical and immoral. One of my most memorable patients was brought to me by a friend. She comes from one of the rich families in the country. When I saw her, from her workup, I knew she had advanced liver cancer. I gave her the objective clinical diagnosis. She was stunned. She asked for her chances, and I told her the truth that short of a miracle, she did not likely have a lot of time in this world anymore. She thanked me. She said she was wondering why she was not getting well and all doctors were telling her she had this or that, like diagnosing her with hepatitis: nobody wanted to tell her the truth. So, after seeing me, she made her plan to go Lourdes in France, and she asked me for the necessary medical certificates, and she made her pilgrimage, made side trips to relatives living abroad. In fact I remember she asked me what she could get me in her trip to Europe, and I jokingly said one of those famous shirts that has a crocodile as its trademark. That was July. December, on a Friday, on her birthday, she kept calling me because I was the guest of honor for her birthday party, but I was too busy. That was the last time I had talked to her. March she was brought to the hospital for hepatic coma and she died. After two weeks, her two kids came to visit me. They informed I was in her last will and testament: it said that as long as they can afford it, I would get 12 Lacoste shirts every year. I started getting them every December, because she knew December is my birth month, and in fact, I still get them but I had to request, if they insist on giving me the shirts, they do it bi-annually or quarterly, so I don’t end up with the same sets of shirts every year.

Are you religious? You have spiritual books here on your table?

I came from a Catholic family and went to questioning the existence of God and becoming rebellious and wanting immediate social change, and I believe I have come full circle. I have come to believe that when there are no answers to questions, the answers maybe with something higher than us.

What books have you enjoyed that you would like to share with our readers?

Few people can write with social science data like Malcolm Gladwell. I have read Blink, Tipping Point, What the Dog Saw, Outliers. I would encourage people to read him. The very interesting book I always remember is by Captain Michael Abrakoff. His first book is It’s Your Ship, and he relates how he turned one of the worst-ranked US navy ships to become the top ship in the navy in efficiency, cost control, gunnery score in his two years of commanding the ship. It is an amazing book, on how he got feedback from the sailors on how to avoid the rusting of the metal, and he implemented it, and because of that, it meant less time for people devoted to repainting the ship and the time was allocated for some more productive endeavours. It is a simple management book but very good. I am looking forward to this book on my table, Maverick by Ricardo Sembler. It is another leadership book.

Are you a maverick?

No, I don’t think so. I would like to believe my leadership style is to always work within the rules. I think a maverick goes outside the rules. But more than anything, I hope to be remembered as a doer, that I do things that are assigned to me. That I get things done, and not just talk about them.

What is your definition of a good leader?

A good leader must first be a good follower. A good leader must be able to motivate people to get things done and to aim for higher things.

Start-up Movement for Disaster Relief: or how not to run a disaster operation


The photo above does not capture at all the scene in the evening of the 40th day after typhoon Haiyan had hit ground zero. It is a photo, taken from a moving van, of a long road in the still no electric power Tacloban, where thousands of candles were lit up on kilometers of the road to remember the thousands who died during the storm. We don’t want you to think we take this event lightly, as the title of this article may suggest. So what does a start-up movement have to do with disaster and relief operations where so many have died? A lot, if we are to base it on what we have seen in Tacloban, Leyte. Let us begin by tackling multilateral organizations. There is no bigger organization or bureaucracy in the world, probably, than these global humanitarian organizations (Medicin Sans Frontiers, Red Cross, International Organization  of Migration, World Food Program, the United Nations). We can even say these groups have some the strongest brands in the world that will be the envy of equally large,  but for-profit organizations, like Coca Cola. Would you stop in the street to give someone money for whatever charity Coca Cola is working on, or for some product the company is developing? Think of UNICEF or World Vision in contrast.


We have read so much about the unintended consequences of aid agencies swarming places like Africa; like capturing local talent that eventually joins the aid agencies’ exit of the area. We never expected to experience some of these unintended consequences, and of all places, in the Philippines; not a rich country, but by no means is it wallowing in famine or war. But as soon as our plane landed, we knew it was a different Leyte we would be seeing. In spite of the barrage of television images, and the usual sentimental and caramel-laced ABS-CBN reporting, nothing prepared us for what we saw. From the air and on the ground, we saw dozens and dozens of white tents, army helicopters, fallen trees, and houses and buildings torn to shreds: it was a scene straight out of the movie MASH (about the Korean war), or some B-movie probably entitled “World War III.” This is serious business: and the word “calamity” doesn’t even begin to describe the gravity of what had happened, especially for us who have many friends in Leyte.


There are two ideas, or tools, we want multilateral aid agencies to explore: “customer discovery,” which “searches for problem/solutions fit,” and “get out of the building,” which should lead to the concepts about stating your value proposition, pivot, and innovation. (See our previous post on Steve Blank and Saving the World). The people of the Start-up Movement, from Steve Blank to Eric Ries and many others, have taught a lot to entrepreneurs who are inventors, software programmers, businessmen, corporate executives. Non-profits, especially gargantuan organizations like the United Nations, have a lot to learn from the movement. Eric Ries defines a start-up as “an institution, not just a product, and so it requires a new kind of management specifically geared to its context of extreme uncertainty.” There is no more uncertain situation that probably surpasses any business environment of a start-up than a few hours or days after a  cataclysmic disaster hits a locality.

Who are the customers of the United Nations in Leyte? What do they want? We at Sunfu think multilateral relief organizations are overly concentrated on relief operations and their operational/logistics capabilities, as probably perfected in their business plan, but the creation of their business or execution model is largely flawed from the start. For one, the scale of the operations is so big and the resources of the multilateral agencies so  massive, they create problems with their bigness that, having read about these problems over two decades ago, we realized they haven’t learned anything from the criticisms of their host countries that we have read about. For one, almost all the hotels have been commandeered by multilateral agencies, like the United Nations: they just take whole buildings and whole blocks, and in a short-sighted view it looks like they are helping local businesses, but in the end, they are actually hindering it because all of a sudden, the whole island’s operations shift from getting back on their feet mode, its disaster relief mode is prolonged. Now what is wrong with that? A lot.


The real customer of these relief organizations is the country. The whole interlocking relations that make the flow of life possible has just stopped. People from outside the island of Leyte, or even just the city of Tacloban, will have a hard time moving in to help or bring back normalcy into the place, to look for family, or to begin looking and connecting for business opportunities, because all of a sudden, there are no accommodations for months, all the restaurants are filled up, and so life is in a stand still because the multilateral organizations have a whole set of checklists they have to fulfill in order to report to headquarters in New York, or Geneva, or Paris that they have done their jobs: the right photo opportunities have to be taken, the right video clips have to be shot, and as Ban Ki-moon appealed for today, more funds would move in to feed this cycle. The infrastructure of the island that survived are being commandeered by the size, good intentions, and wealth of these giant aid agencies, which feeds more the need for relief, and we fear, they will further institutionalize mendicancy. Most hotels, even lousy hotels, have been booked for until June 2014. Do aid agencies know of these consequences? Do they know their customer?


Part of the panic, which fed into the looting, was caused by the fear that there would be no food available commercially. Money thus becomes worthless. Yet for us, the Sunfu team, it took us hours to find breakfast, because the available restaurants were filled up with aid workers, some with the insensitive posting on the entrance of an establishment saying this or that restaurant is exclusive for this and that group. The result is some of us had to go out for hours looking for breakfast, losing our patience and temper a few times, because the paratroopers of agencies like the U.N. have not been going out the building, or in this case, their hotels, except to distribute relief, do site  inspections, and prepare for the arrival of agency bigwigs. But the area, the city, or even the whole province will not rise if the ecosystem of the whole province is under the strangle hold of multilateral agencies that want to make sure their tents are up, the food packs readily available, and they have done their mandate. Who can argue with that?  A comment from one of the barangay captains, which I thought worth repeating: “The stores are beginning to open, which is the best sign that things will go back to normal.”  But the aid agencies are hindering the flow of goods as trucks and other kinds of vehicles have been rented out at incredibly high prices. In fact, she said if the looting did not happen, whatever the devastation, people would have been able to pick themselves up faster. The point is get the customers up their feet, and the fastest way is to give them the capacity to get up: if you are in a medical mission, after the mission of a few days, just enough time to give the local doctors to recover, they leave them capacity to do their jobs. But that would be very expensive, and less dramatic. Not much photo opportunity, and fewer occasions to have contact with the media and the general populace. The validation of the customer therefore should not be in that the patient is not dead, or is up and about, but the validation is if their lives have gone back to normal as soon as possible, or is it even better and more productive than before. From our angle, what we see is most multilateral agencies are there to help, but their help ends with the “feeding mission,” or the “medical mission.” Tzu Chi, the Buddhist charity organization, seems to have gotten it right. They immediately did a work for money program: help clean up certain streets of debris and you get money. That helped clear some streets. They also had a medical mission component. Yet they also just distributed money, and we are talking about P10,000 to P20,000 (in US dollar terms it’s somewhere at the minimum of USD200 to USD500). The group gave people capacity and capacity immediately to get some of the resources they knew they needed and wanted, and it gave some life to the local economy. Tzu Chi left immediately afterwards, and its members were not in the way by hogging resources of the place (very Buddhist).

There were sardine cans from charity organization being sold in the market by recipients, hardly any takers, as canned sardines coming from charity organizations flooded the island. Recipients of these sardines were simply sick and tired of sardines, after weeks of nothing but sardines. They want variety, they want to move on, they don’t want the same fare day in and out. Inedible relief food packs have found their way in the market: with hardly any takers. This is not corruption, as some in media have claimed: this is the market somehow throwing out (vomiting) the food it is being fed, trying to monetize the situation in order to get going. One of the biggest hits, and the long lines of people waiting for their turn was the best proof, was when Mayor Sandy Javier’s restaurant, Andok’s Manok, opened: people patiently waited for hours to pay good money to get some juicy roasted chicken. Nothing like good food to heal the body and uplift the spirit. Even we fell in line. No doubt his being mayor of a small Leyte town and he is somehow also related by party affiliation to the province’s governor helped, as government electric generators helped light up the  establishment’s surrounding area. But good food is good food: whatever the criticisms were muted by great hot crispy juicy chicken.


We know it sounds callous to be so calculating, at the same time critical of multilateral agencies who certainly want to save lives as well. But the multilateral agencies we observed were actually not looking at capacity building: they were looking to yes saving lives, but they were simply also looking at this as a job, a good job, a serious job, a vocation even. But they were not looking at this as an entrepreneurial enterprise that would fold up if it didn’t succeed in hitting its goals of making the customers happy, or getting the customers’ lives back to normal, immediately. And here is the other suggestion we can take from the start-up movement: verbalize what you or your founders are trying to do. If I am to just cite two perceptive and very interesting articles written about the disasters that have happened to the country, the phrase that stands out is “capacity building.” This is what is needed: capacity building. Very important. Equally important is to ask: But capacity for what? This is not about giving the fisherman boats and nets to fish: it is a lot more than this.

The first article is by Gabriela Luz, who works with Oxfam. She writes in the Philippine Daily Inquirer about what has happened to them in earthquake-struck Bohol, after Haiyan devastated Leyte: “In a natural disaster, the immediate assumption is that the most vulnerable are stripped of basic needs: food, water, shelter. There’s a race against time to deliver aid that would meet the big three. We in humanitarian agencies have been working in emergencies for so long that we’ve broken down aid to food packs, hygiene kits, water kits and emergency shelter.

“What happened in earthquake-struck Bohol was that agencies working on the ground were still trying to meet these needs when Yolanda hit, and then markets instantly dried up. Cebu was the nearest large market and logisticians trying to procure supplies were shut out. Supplies coming into Tagbilaran were suddenly diverted to Cebu hubs because the needs were bigger and more immediate in Yolanda-hit cities with zero systems.

“Granting that you can purchase the right number of aid kits needed, there’s still the problem of getting these in. What happened in Yolanda is that places like Leyte had no local suppliers. There were no vehicles, no fuel, no trucking. Everything had to be sourced from the outside. You’re scrambling to get the next available vehicle—but you’re not the only organization trying to do so. Suddenly, suppliers who could bring relief in were in high demand and could control prices. It was costing up to P10,000 just to rent a vehicle. Trucking companies were canceling arrangements in the middle of the night, right before a distribution, because of higher bids worth more money.

“Hand in hand with resources is the human element. In the humanitarian field, only a relatively small number of people are equipped to work in emergencies. Finding someone to do emergency work means finding a person with the technical expertise, knowledge and experience not just to respond but also to figure out how to go beyond response and move toward recovery as quickly as possible. Immediately after Yolanda, experienced humanitarian workers were being pulled out of Bohol to work where the need was greater.


 ”In Bohol, we’re seeing issues crop up again because needs are overlooked. People don’t know how long they will stay in their current living conditions. Livelihoods are still a question mark. As for Zamboanga, people are still in evacuation centers. Incredibly distressing issues on gender-based violence and protection are rising. There are reports of prostitution, involving even children for a tiny bit of money. But even with these issues cropping up, who is left to cover them?

“Recognizing that a competition of emergencies can happen is important because the pressure of it consistently happening should add to how we understand the scale of preparing for disasters. Here are some things we should consider to acknowledge this problem:

“Capacity-building and going local. We know that we are a country overrun by disasters and that it’s going to get worse. And we know we don’t have the personnel to respond to this on our own. We need to spread the knowledge, the capacity, around, so if we ourselves can’t do it, then we know others can.”

It is interesting to read the article because coming from the point of view of someone who works for a giant aid agency, she looks at capacity building as being prepared for disasters. While we advocate for start-up tools, we also advocate capacity building, in allowing the locality to figure out what they need to be strong, not for disasters, but for life, maybe with the help of aid workers getting out of the way after the initial stage of relief: or at the very least, to get out of the relief mode and immediately into capacity building, not for disaster preparedness (as Nassim Taleb would say, there is no way of preparing for Black Swans, but there is a way to be Anti-Fragile), but to be strong and have a mind set of strength by helping provide the mental tools to have the mind set of running their lives, or households, or employment, or companies as start-ups. The whole NGO and multilateral aid agency community must get out of the disaster relief mind-set, and it must get into the entrepreneurial start-up mode.

Here is another article, this time by Art Villasanta and Peter Galace, also published in the Philippine Daily Inquirer just three days after the above article from the Oxfam worker: “Tom van der Heyden, a satellite expert who works in the Philippines, said the country needs to be properly educated to properly appreciate what a satellite can do. He noted that its satellite requirement ‘has always been urgent.’ The Philippines, however, needs to have people in the highest positions who understand what can be done with a satellite.

‘Buying a truck will not help if you have no experience driving a truck. The country needs to build up capabilities, and then a satellite, so that the satellite is not just a drain on the economy but can serve the people and business,’ Heyden said.

“He emphasized that the Philippines also needs a satellite for maritime security and to protect its waters and borders. In this vein, Pimentel said the Philippine military should have quick-deploy VSAT systems and a hub with the necessary IP backhaul connectivity. ‘It is pathetic that today, the VSAT network of the [military] is actually on a Chinese satellite!’

“The Philippines has orbited only two satellites: the derelict Agila-1 and Agila-2, which is now operated by Asia Broadcast Satellite, and serves Africa. ‘Forewarned is forearmed’ is a lesson we should have learned long ago from the unending procession of natural disasters that pummel us without fail every year. We must immediately heed this lesson. Nature is not merciful, and never will be.

“We need a Philippine satellite now to save Filipino lives in the future.”

The excerpt above talks about “build(ing) up capabilities” in the high tech sense of having the technology, in this case a satellite, to withstand another typhoon Haiyan. We think in this blog we are writing, our point about capacity building is clear: we are different from these two articles in that we interpret capacity building eventually as a mind-set first, with approaches to the problem (the start-up movement tools) second, and third, but no less important, an eco-system within the local and national boarders (how unfortunate that we still have to talk about national boarders in the 21st century) that makes it possible for channels of commerce, goods, health care to freely flow and be strong no matter what situation, even after a major disruption by an earthquake (Bohol), invasion of gangsters (Zamboanga), or a typhoon (Leyte). After the initial first week: the relief mentality must immediately shift to local capacity building. In fact, it is a golden moment to get a community to be better than it was before the disaster.

With organizations like the United Nations, the magnitude of their operations and the professionalism involved: you know even if pursued with passion, the organizational momentum is towards feeding and temporarily housing people: these tasks will take up most of the organizational energy. This is partly, but also hardly, capacity building.  Steve Blank is now talking about metrics and software programs that measure indicators of success of a start-up, and that has got us worried. We think that many victories and successes of a start-up, aside from the bottom line, will never be measurable, because a surviving start-up is a confluence of events and initiatives as it looks for a scalable model. The danger, always, for the start-up is that it will not be able to withstand the shocks the competitors, the market, and other Black Swans are throwing at it. The other danger is that it will start looking and believing that what matters are what are measurable, which is a trap of these giant NGOs and aid agencies-mind set. But the reason we are enamored by start-up thinking tools is because we think Steve Blank and the other articulators of this movement are able to find the equipment (or point-of-view) for people, entrepreneurs, to understand and take the shocks, by being lean and agile, by having the correct mental outlook and desire to fail, fail fast, and pivot.

And here is where getting out of the building is important: the concept in the start-up movement is for the founders or entrepreneurs to get out of the building to meet the customer, to develop customers and knowledge of the customers, to see their problems, to find out what they want and what are the solutions. Aid workers will tell you that in fact they are out, seeing the problems, and solving them. But we would argue, the generals of this army, like Ban Ki-moon, and the rest of the team should stay out of hotels and, in the evening, sleep in their tents (literally) during the duration of their stay. They want to spend money, then instead of spending them on hotels, rent out parcels of vacant land for their UN tents for their staff and generals to stay in. Perhaps they will find out why, in spite of so many tents available, people prefer to go back to their destroyed houses. Many tents are actually unoccupied. Other charitable organizations, when out there, will find out that, locals and local government officials do not know what to do with old clothes being sent their way, and if it will not offend, we have no doubt many of them would gladly pour some fuel and throw a lighted match on the clothes. They don’t need them. Those that do, they want new clothes. Local governments are in fix as to what to do with donated used clothes, without appearing ungrateful.


Indeed, a provincial administrator of the local government very provocatively asked: why have most parachute doctors and hospitals from donor agencies and countries not visited the local public hospitals and given or helped the local hospitals in having the capacity to do their work, as the local doctors there know the culture and the language of the area? The patients are flocking to these places, only to find devastation. The local doctors are just there, waiting. Some of the most sophisticated medical ships, mobile clinics, military hospitals came over from different countries, mostly from countries that have experienced or are currently experiencing military expansion, thus the development of very mobile medical teams and equipment. But they never gave the local provincial hospitals and doctors capacity: hardly anyone asked how they were doing. Sure a tent or two, with some medical tools were left behind by a group, but it was not even a dot in the ocean of need. The local doctors who know the problems, local language, the patients and their medical history: they were just left to clean up and wait for the national and local government to get their act together and go through the tedious task of meeting stringent purchasing rules to get the necessary equipment to get going. This is not a criticism of the local and national governments, but an acknowledgement again that the bureaucracy has its own rules and momentum, its own checklists of requirements, that dictates its actions and ability. It cannot move unless certain boxes have been checked. It needs a start-up culture, or at least it needs to have start-up clusters and teams. Yet local governments have the edge of having the local knowledge of each area’s idiosyncratic culture, specifics of who is in need, and the location of infrastructure to get whatever needs to be brought to the end-user. It will be difficult, if not impossible, to ignore them. Of course just like the experience of the Red Cross in Bohol in getting into a conflict with a town mayor who wanted to have a say in relief distribution, there is fear of being sucked into the local politics of each locality, thus the desire to avoid local officials. Fine: then get out of the hotel and literally stay in your tents as home and office: live literally on the ground. This way, not only is the feed back loop easier, faster, and more realistic: they do not hamper the normal flow of commerce by hogging all the resources of the locality. If bringing and cooking your own food is a problem, or is simply not the solution, leave half the space of the restaurant for other locals, do-gooders, entrepreneurs, scientists, and aid workers to buy their meal. Of course hospitals getting donated medical equipment will not be good for local businesses like Sunfu, so maybe donating countries can purchase equipment from businesses like us, and if they prefer, they only buy equipment that are manufactured or invented by their countrymen that businesses like us sell, as a sort of compromise (as this seems to be an issue for some); or better, support equipment invented and manufactured by us (although honestly medical equipment manufacturing is still a pipe dream in this country, as there is no capacity: although Sunfu Solutions is trying, and may partner with Dr. Harvey Uy in the future for some initiatives in ophthalmologic solutions).

Yesterday Ban Ki-moon appealed for more funds for food, shelter, water, and health. We could only imagine if this almost $1 billion US dollars of fresh funds could be used to fund an honest-to-goodness start-up movement within the UN for Leyte, and on the ground where their foot soldiers are all out trying to make a difference in the lives of Filipinos. There is a big movement in the Philippines called Go Negosyo, which encourages Filipinos to become entrepreneurs in a culture where dreams are for our loved ones to join the biggest corporations, which can withstand the shocks thrown by life at an individual. Work for a great big company and they have health care, insurance, yearly bonuses, and so on to protect the employee. We have always approached the Go Negosyo program with skepticism because, for one, the underlying current of the initiatives is government cannot help you, and for its failures, you are on your own: so look at these millionaires and billionaires (some of them modern day pirates) and see if you can be like them. The end goal, end philosophy, is to be self-sufficient. In the context of the Philippines, the start-up movement is worth pursuing, as it provides the outlook and tools in working towards self-sufficiency, but it needs to be added, in the context of the Third World, with the consciousness of the need for local capacity building, technology transfer, management innovation, and human capital development. The task and challenges are enormous: the start-up movement just provides conceptual tools to get started, to withstand and understand the shocks, the Black Swans, and if successful, to have the necessary mindset to see the world with eyes of a hungry and innovative entrepreneur.

In the context of the Third World, we know many of these apps and technologies out there, being produced by start-ups in places like Silicon Valley, are just toys; made for the First World, or worse, made for venture capitalists. (See article in  “Can Silicon Valley Save the World?” by Charles Kenny and Justin Sandefur in Foreign Policy, July/August 2013, about innovation in the devices and gadgets supposed to help the Third World defeat poverty that are impractical if not laughable: example, a solar powered soccer ball that generates power when rolled, but cost maybe 10 times more than more practical and less sexy gadgets. Cute, but no thanks). We need local capacity-building start-ups, not band-aid solutions, we need start-ups that have a culture that will save lives beyond mendicancy, and on the other extreme, start-ups must also look beyond just the bottom line and the great global technology fetish. We do not need start-ups like a new gasoline station company in the Philippines which declared that it is decorating and lighting their gasoline stations like First World gasoline stations. Shell and Petron have done that years ago in the Philippines. Their other stated goal is to franchise out as many gasoline stations as the wildly successful Jollibee Hamburger. That’s innovation?

One of the most precious commodities for days, after typhoon Haiyan hit Leyte, more precious  than gold, were to have liters of gasoline to run vehicles. People fell in line for over a full day to get their share, and only the opening up of alternatives like in the photo below alleviated the pressure on the community, which served to dissipate the panic. The black market helped calm down the communities, because money, the traditional medium of exchange and value, is back in circulation. How can gasoline stations service small entrepreneurs in the photo below, without being a danger the environment (using water and soda bottles as gasoline containers!), and skyrocketing prices?  The need for goods to be readily available, not be hogged by a select few (no matter how good their intentions), they need to have a mind set to state the hypothesis or goal, to know the customer and have the hypothesis validated, and to literally get out of the building (and for multilateral aid agencies to live outside the hotel buildings) are necessary: we need a start-up culture obviously, yes, and we also need a start-up set of tools, sure; but equally necessary, we should not be too target driven when we enter a business or a relief operation, because we should be looking, with a clear and hard eye, at what the customer wants and needs. We cannot enter a situation with our preconceived notions. One of the great ideas articulated by Steve Blank is that no business plan ever survives first contact with the customer. Think about that. Why is that so true United Nations?



PHA Convention: lessons, competition, the rise of China and US innovation


It was a wonderful experience and as usual there was plenty of learning for us in the recently concluded Philippine Hospital Association (PHA) convention in the SMX. Some lessons and observations:

1. There was very good response and interest to the Varian Digital Radiography system. We are very proud to be associated with a company mentioned in many circles as one of the most innovative companies on earth.

Here is something from their website:

Varian’s PaxScan® line of ultra-fast flat-panel digital X-ray image detectors are used to capture X-ray images and instantly display them on computer screens, eliminating the need for film and film processing. Varian’s panels can capture up to 60 images per second, which is fast enough to produce a moving image of a heart beating.
PaxScan Products
Imaging panels are available for medical and industrial applications, including: medical diagnostics, veterinary care, dental imaging, industrial inspection, and security.
PaxScan CBCT Software Tools
Varian Medical Systems’ commitment to Cone Beam CT applications spans more than 20 years. In addition to CBCT-enabling flat panel detectors and X-ray tubes, Varian is now providing CBCT reconstruction and processing algorithms in the form of an easy to use software toolkit: CBCT Software Tools, or CST for short. CST is designed for use with all Varian X-Ray fluoroscopic flat panel detectors. It comprises a suite of Windows-based software libraries which allow an OEM to quickly develop software that produces high quality CBCT images for medical, dental, or industrial applications.
Varian’s amorphous-silicon flat-panel image detectors for digital radiography work by converting the X rays that strike its surface into light, and then turning the light into electronic data that a computer can display as a high-quality digital image.

2. Clients and partners served well passed-by and stayed in our booths as if they found long-lost family in the mad and maddening market place of salesmen, wizards, doctors, engineers, and shamans. We know that sounds like a marketing tagline, but because medical equipment are so important to the flow and health of the community, hospitals, and businesses, “partnership” is a term hardly used, but is expected by most doctors and health organizations. Sunfu is serious about this, very serious.

3. China is really rising as an equipment manufacturer hub, and it is only a matter of time that innovation will become part of their process, as it has been part of countries that manufacture medical solutions and pharmaceuticals, like the United States and tiny Singapore. But many of the good manufacturers from China are also being punished by the market as hardly any China manufacturing company is loyal to any local distributor here. It is striking that some of the biggest China names are missing in this important convention, because dealers, customers, doctors, technicians know that this lack of loyalty eventually results in inefficiency of distribution, service, local technical capacity, and eventually relationships suffer all the way to the patients. All these local servicing take skills, knowledge, investments, courage, patience, ethics, and loyalty: partnership is a very difficult word for manufacturers, especially China manufacturers, all the more if their goal is to list in the Shanghai Stock Exchange, or worse, the the New York Stock Exchange. Then it becomes short-term planning, short-term relationships, and no local capacity building. The stock market, in the end, is not very helpful to service and innovation, although of course it is quite phenomenal in capital mobilization to be part of the global sweepstakes.

4. There seems to be two types of competitors: those who see you as enemy number 1, and everything associated with you or your company is to be avoided or condemned. And those who know this is intense, but it is also a game. We think either one can be great winners, but the latter has the best chance of improving and also enjoying, as the ultimate competition, and the ultimate cliche, is that in order to improve, one competes with oneself. Sunfu improves year-to-year, because we compete with our track record, which is certainly not perfect, but we are willing to look at ourselves truthfully and assess how we can serve our colleagues and partnerships inside and outside the company to the best of our abilities. We are harder on ourselves when we look at our failures, rather than hard on ourselves when we look at our competitors for their successes. The industry is big (even if we regularly hear of many Philippine medical equipment companies putting up the white flag due to the intensity of the competition and the incredible complexity of the market), the world even bigger: there is room for everyone.

Interesting take on the drug Herceptin

Time for Another Revolution in Medicines Access The ‘Test Case’ of Herceptin

(From the website Newsclick: )

Amit Sengupta

The last fifty years is witness to a virtual explosion in the creation of new knowledge. Capitalism has used this characteristic of modern science and technology to constantly create products and tools to constantly revolutionize the productive forces.

This dual nature of capitalism in the arena of knowledge creation – knowledge creation and its control are both embedded in the nature of capitalism. Without new knowledge and the creation of new products, capitalism is unable to survive. At the same time, it cannot allow the free use of such knowledge, as this jeopardizes the very basis of capitalist accumulation based on hegemony over the process of production. This inherent contradiction is starting to express itself in a new dilemma – control over knowledge production is now a fetter on creation of new knowledge.

TRIPS – a cruel agreement

This dilemma s being played out in the field of innovations that leads to discovery of new medical products. It is being played out in two very important ways. The 1980s and 1990s were a period of intense struggle, waged by developed capitalist countries, to put in place a global system that would legalise its hegemonistic control over knowledge. The result was the signing of the TRIPS (Trade Related Intellectual Property Rights) agreement in 2004. The TRIPS agreement legitimized the control over knowledge through a strengthened patent regime that was to be applicable to all countries in the world (with some limited waivers in the form of transition periods for developing and least developed countries).

The TRIPS agreement is a cruel agreement – what it basically says is that access to knowledge that can save lives would be limited to those who can pay (as individuals or through their governments). The decade of the 1990s saw the unfolding of one of the worst man-made tragedies ever, in the form of the HIV AIDS epidemic. Nominally, the disease is caused by a virus, but the conditions for the devastation it caused (and is still causing) was a human creation. In less than a decade after HIV infection was first detected in humans, the first drugs to effectively treat it were being rolled out. Yet it raged across the poorest countries of the world, especially in sub-Saharan Africa, decimating huge swathes of the population. Almost a whole generation succumbed to the disease in the region. Not because remedies were not available. Not because we did not understand how the spread of the disease could be stopped. But because these remedies were not allowed to reach those who needed them the most. They were not allowed to be used because a handful of CEOs of giant pharmaceutical companies priced these drugs way out of the reach of people who needed these drugs in poor countries. Sub-Saharan Africa was already reeling under massive debt burdens foisted on them by policies promoted by the IMF and World Bank. They were now asked to shell out money to buy drugs that would save their people – money that amounted to, in some cases, over 50% of the entire GDP of the country.

In 2001, and Indian company – Cipla – entered the fray. It announced that it would supply drugs to treat HIV AIDS at 1/40th (that is just 2.5%) of the price charged by multinational corporations. Drug prices of anti-retrovirals (those that treated HIV AIDS) fell from the earlier $12,000 per patient/per year to $300. Since then the prices of these early anti-retrovirals have fallen to less than $100 for a year’s treatment.

Biologics – the new frontier of disease control

The above story, known to many, merits repeating because it is now being played out in another area of medicinal products. The next new-frontier of disease control lies in finding remedies that can effectively cure and control cancers and several degenerative diseases. Cancers of different kinds are a cause for over 8 million deaths every year (i.e. almost 15% of all deaths) and 70% of these deaths occur in low and middle income countries. Even 3 decades back most cancers were considered a death sentence. No more so. Over the past decades new treatments and products are starting to win significant victories over a number of types of cancers. New products are being developed and many are already in use – many of which are a significant advance over existing treatments. As such opportunities open up, they are also opening up opportunities for pharmaceutical companies to reap super-profits at the expense of human misery. While the basic research for virtually all cancer treatments are done in public funded institutions, the ultimate products are controlled by a handful of companies.

Simultaneously we are seeing another development taking shape. Fewer and fewer new drugs that are significant advances over current treatments are being researched. Partly this is a consequence also of what we have noted earlier – the patents system, by controlling access to knowledge, finally also acts as a fetter to the creation of new knowledge. Most patents registered today do not protect an invention, they actually are designed to prevent others from doing research. Known as ‘patent thickets’ these patents prevent transmission of knowledge, and its further development. In India less than a handful of new medicines are introduced every year, yet several thousand patents are granted. This is a global phenomenon not restricted just to India. While the number of patents is growing, the number of new drugs that are being researched continue to fall alarmingly.

There is, however, and exception to this trend. The field of biotechnology is starting to live up to its earlier promise and is delivering entirely new forms of treatment. Thus while we have fewer drugs of promise that are being developed through the earlier route of chemical synthesis, exciting new treatment avenues are being opened up by research using the biotechnology route for drug development.

Drugs developed using biotechnology are different because they are produced in living cells. The molecules which make up these drugs are larger in size and more complex than the ‘small molecule’ drugs manufactured using the chemical synthesis method. The manufacturing systems used to produce these drugs need to be monitored differently. These drugs – termed as biologics – have several potential advantages. They can, theoretically, be tailored to hit specific ‘targets’ in the human body. This is of particular interest in diseases which are caused by altered or aberrant functioning of specific genes – such as in the case of several types of cancers. Traditional cancer drugs are called ‘cytotoxic’ drugs, i.e. they are poisonous to cells in the body. The basic principle on which they work is that they selectively kill cells that proliferate very fast (as happens in the case of cancer cells). However they are never entirely selective and that is why cytotoxic drugs have a range of side effects caused by the destruction or alteration of normal cells in the body as well. Biologics are being developed that only target specific gene sequences in cells and thus would have less side effects.

The Herceptin Story

One such drug that is a breakthrough drug is called trastuzumab. The drug is used to treat a certain kind of breast cancer that is particularly aggressive and difficult to treat or manage.

Trastuzumab works in a way that is very similar to the way antibodies work in the body. Antibodies are produced by the body’s immune system, which is the body’s defense system against foreign invaders – like viruses, bacteria, and other biological agents. They are able to recognise these foreign agents and bind to them. The body’s immune system then gets into action to destroy these foreign cells. Trastuzumab binds to a gene called the HER2 gene, that is more active in some breast cancer patients. The HER2 gene stimulates the growth of cancer cells. By binding to the HER2 gene, Trastuzumab suppresses its activity. It also stimulates the body’s own immune cells to destroy the tumour cells.

Trastuzumab belongs to a class of biologics that are called monoclonal antibodies. Monoclonal antibodies are produced from a single cell-line (hence the term ‘mono’), which is cloned to produce a very large number of cells. The cells are genetically engineered (i.e. a piece of foreign gene is introduced into the cell) to secrete the antibody we desire. Trastuzumab, for example, is made by substituting a portion of a human gene into a mouse using recombinant DNA technology. The mouse cells are thus ‘fooled’ into producing the antibody.

To continue the Trastuzumab story – the drug was marketed in 1998 by Genetech (later acquired by the Swiss multinational, Roche). It is sold under the brand name Herceptin. It is interesting to note that though the product has now been around for almost 15 years, Roche still enjoys global monopoly over the drug. The story would have been very different if Herceptin had been a drug that could be produced by the chemical synthesis route. Given the drug’s important public health benefit, many generic manufacturers (especially in India, the major centre of generic drug manufacture in the developing world) would be interested in producing their own versions of Trastuzumab. Herceptin was introduced in the global market at a time when the Indian Patent law allowed generic versions of patented drugs to be produced without any restrictions. The inability of Indian companies to come up with a generic version is related to special features that characterize biologics like Trastuzumab.

Unlike in the case of conventional ‘small molecule drugs’ it is never possible to produce an exact replica of the original drug. Biologics are extremely sensitive to the manufacturing process and the starting material. As the starting material is a living cell, it is impossible to have an exactly similar starting cell. Moreover very small changes in the manufacturing process can bring about changes in the final product. Thus, even in the case of the original product, there are variations in the product – between batches and even within the same batch. Thus the equivalents of generic versions of generics are called ‘biosimilars’.

Biosimilar manufacture is a relatively new area as the processes involved are entirely different from those used to produce drugs through the chemical synthesis route. Further, there are regulatory hurdles because the process of getting regulatory approval for biosimilars is more cumbersome than for ‘small molecule’ drugs. This is again because of the nature of biologics – because it is impossible to replicate the original drug, more data is demanded by regulatory agencies to prove that the quality, safety and efficacy profile of the biosimilar is identical to that of the reference drug (i.e. the original biologic). Consequently, in the case of biologics, patent barriers are not the only barrier to the production of biologics.

The time to act is ‘now’

Herceptin has recently been in the news because of two reasons. First, because of the interest being generated about use of Compulsory licenses (i.e. licenses issued to generic companies to manufacture patented drugs) after India issued its first compulsory license last year for another anti-cancer drug – sorafenib. The second reason is that it is only now that Indian companies have started acquiring the capacity and technical competence to produce biosimilars.

Because it now appears possible that biosimilars of Herceptin can be introduced, it is important to examine the economics and the public health importance of the drug. Treatment with Herceptin typically consists of 12 intravenous doses of the drug, administered every three to four weeks over the course of a year. Roche sells the drug for more than Rs.70,000 per dose. Clearly the cost is prohibitive for almost any Indian patient. The cost has to be seen in the context that breast cancer is the most prevalent form of cancer among urban women, and the second most prevalent for rural women According to the national cancer registry, over 1,00,000 women in India develop breast cancer every year (about 1 in 22 women in India stand at risk of getting breast cancer in their lifetime). Out of the total number of breast cancer patients, about 25% benefit from Herceptin (there are tests that can show which patients will benefit). Thus approximately 25-30,000 women would benefit from the use of Herceptin. Importantly, Herceptin is useful in the most aggressive form of the cancer, which typically afflicts younger patients. Yet because of the misuse of the monopoly situation that Roche enjoys, barely 5% of eligible patients are able to access the drug, and many of those who do are put on a lower dosage than recommended.

The situation cries for an immediate remedy. There are several issues that need to be addressed in order to expedite the entry of biosimilars of Herceptin in the Indian market. First, patent barriers need to be removed by expeditious issue of a compulsory license. The patent status of Herceptin is not clear in India as it is the subject of several litigations, however a compulsory license is the fastest way to make sure that patents are not a barrier to introduction of biosimilars. Simultaneously regulatory procedures need to be streamlined to ensure that entry of biosimilars are fast-tracked, while of course ensuring that quality is not compromised. Finally, public investment is necessary to build larger capacity in India to produce biosimilars.

Herceptin is a test case. If the attempt to get Inidan biosimilars of Herceptin in the market is successful, it has the potential to open the doors for a range of other biosimilars of other new biologic drugs that are already in the market or are being developed. Cipla’s pioneering action in 2001 revolutionized HIV AIDS treatment. Biosimilars produced by Indian companies can change the face of treatments for many diseases, now considered virtually untreatable, not just in India but across the world. There is no reason why the experience of a 97.5% drop in prices, seen in the case of HIV AIDS drugs when generics were introduced, cannot be replicated in the case of biosimilars. A bold and responsive government and regulatory agencies need to act in tandem to make this a reality. The time to act is now.