"The initial years were tough," says Varaprasad. "Banks and financial institutions viewed the project skeptically and refused to fund it." Investors saw three main obstacles. First, in their view, the biotech sector in India was too immature. Second, though 45 million Indians are affected by hepatitis B, the lack of awareness of the disease and the limited use of vaccines did not offer great market potential. Third, they didn't believe an electronics engineer could successfully run a biopharmaceutical company.
So how did an electronics engineer end up founding a biotech?PROVING THE SKEPTICS WRONG
It all started when Varaprasad attended an international seminar in Geneva in 1992, where he was a casual visitor along with a scientist cousin. There, he heard Western speakers say that India lagged behind other counties in following universal immunization programs. Right then, Varaprasad decided to do something about it.
When he approached a Western company for technology, however, Varaprasad heard disparaging remarks about India's inability to pay the technology fee and the inability of Indian scientists to absorb the technology. Knowing how much home-grown talent the country has, he was determined to prove them wrong, and make India more self-sufficient in the process. So the soft-spoken Varaprasad went off to look for funding.
Persistence was his primary tool. At the time, the venture capital system was not well developed in India. Undeterred, Varaprasad pitched his plan to every possible source of funding he could find. The company's big break finally came in 1994, when Khalil Ahmed, the healthcare investment representative for H.E. Yusuf Alawi Abdullah, the foreign minister of the Sultanate of Oman, met with Varaprasad to explore opportunities to invest in his company. Within a few months, Abdullah and his investment partners provided the funds for vaccine research. Abdullah also arranged for long-term loans from Oman International bank at low interest rates.
Three years later, in 1997, Shanvac-B, India's first r-DNA hepatitis-B vaccine was released to the Indian market.
He is also very proud of the fact that his company's products are affordable for Indians. As biogenerics, they sell on the Indian market at prices much lower than similar imported products. Shanvac-B, for example, costs about one-tenth of the price of the imported vaccine for hepatitis B.