Dolo 650 maker: We did not expect this kind of popularity

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#Covid, #Dilip Surana, #Dolo 650, #Micro Labs

Dilip Surana, chairman and managing director at Micro Labs Limited, is—with due respect to Adar Poonawalla, CEO, Serum Insitutute of India, and Bharat Biotech chairman Krishna Ella, the companies behind COVID-19 vaccines—the pharma businessman of the moment. Micro Labs is the company that produces Dolo-650, a pill to manage fever that has triggered outrageous sales and a deluge of memes due to its wild popularity. Surana is a 30-year pharma veteran who joined the family business and took over operations in 1983. In an interview with Moneycontrol, he answers the reasons for Dolo-650 popularity, the company’s plans for 2022 and ingredients to succeed in a business, among other things. Edited excerpts:

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How and when did you get the idea to make Dolo 650? What were the main challenges for manufacturing Dolo and how did you address them?

The Paracetamol 500 mg market was always crowded and we wanted to have a Paracetamol with a difference. After we studied the market and held discussions with doctors, we found there was a gap in managing fever. Relief from fever and pain provided by Paracetamol 500 mg was not adequate. Dolo-650 was the answer to fill the gap and this was how it was launched in 1993. Yes, there were several challenges—the size and shape of the 650 mg tablets had to be ergonomically designed to ensure easy swallowability. This was overcome by coming out with oval shaped tablets with the right excipients (substances formulated alongside the active ingredient of a medication) for the first time in India.

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Were you expecting this kind of market for Dolo? What makes this tablet so popular in the Covid times?

The fact is Dolo-650 has been the number one paracetamol 650 mg brand prescribed in India for decades. Dolo-650 has always been a popular brand among doctors across India. However, we did not expect the kind of popularity that Dolo-650 gained recently because we have never advertised the tablet directly to the public. I can cite several reasons for the popularity of Dolo 650. Fever and body pain have been the main symptoms of COVID, for which Dolo-650 proved to be the right remedy. During quarantine and the lockdown period, since doctors were not seeing patients personally, prescriptions of Dolo-650 floated via WhatsApp and SMS and voice messages. This was probably passed on from one patient to other and through word of mouth, Dolo-650 reached many families across the country.

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Dolo-650 also helped in promoting the COVID-19 vaccination drive. We addressed the doubts which the public had about COVID vaccines through posters that answered the Frequently Asked Questions about vaccine. These posters were put up at all vaccination centres across India. The posters were in English and in local languages. Further, our team reached out to healthcare professionals at vaccination centres and provided samples of Dolo-650, masks and sanitisers. Doctors also prescribed Dolo 650 after vaccination to people in case they get fever and pain. This popularised the brand at grassroot level.

During COVID period, our 600-plus medical representatives and managers worked (adhering to the guidelines of the government) in the field and ensured that Dolo-650 was available at places where it mattered. Our infrastructure to manufacture and distribute, complemented the efforts of sales and marketing teams. All these added to the success story.

What are your plans for 2022? Are you expanding your global reach? How do you plan to optimise operations, embrace technology, and increase automation?

We will continue our focus on the domestic market and increase our market share in the therapeutic segments we are operating in.

In the international market, we plan to focus on the regulated market (US and Europe) and in ROW (Rest of the World) where we are already present, we will increase our capabilities to meet the challenges and improve our presence.

In today’s technology-driven world, it is imperative that organisations embrace newer technologies and automation. We are also continuously and rapidly going for upgradation and automation, not only in manufacturing, but also in marketing, supply chain etc.

Which disease are you targeting at next? What structural changes have you brought about in your R&D ecosystem?

Micro Labs is a multi-division corporate with divisions catering to various acute and chronic segments covering therapeutic areas like pain/analgesics, cardiology, diabetology, ophthalmology, dermatology, anti-infective, neuropsychiatry, critical Care, and others.

Micro Labs has already two well-established R&D centres based at Bengaluru and Mumbai and we are working towards strengthening the facilities to gear up for the future demand.

We will continue to focus on all key therapeutic segments. We do not intend to make any structural changes in our area of focus.

What are the main lessons that you have learnt from the pandemic?

This has been the most challenging time worldwide for all professionals. One of the first things we learnt is to set up a core team of senior officials since the time of lockdown in mid March. We were in constant contact with almost all the employees by effective use of various digital platforms. The main objective was to keep the team focused during the lockdown. We quickly learnt to manage working remotely and working in shifts by ensuring all safety measures as per WHO standards. Last but not the least, we have taken care of the financial part of every employee despite laggard business.

Do you foresee a short-term slump in pharmaceutical industry? What is needed to rebuild the confidence of the pharma industry?

But for a short-term slump particularly in segments such as dermatology, ophthalmology, dentistry, the pharmaceutical industry bounced back very quickly from the impact of COVID and at present is quite confident and buoyant.

Can you give a sense of the business that you have done since the outbreak of the pandemic?

Micro Labs continues to grow on a par or better than the Indian pharma market. Performance of acute segment was better than the performance of the chronic segment, but going forward, we are confident that chronic therapy will also bounce back, the signs are which are already visible.

In the generic drug market, how important is branding? Do you agree that the branding tweaks you have executed have contributed to the popularity of the pill?

For any product to be successful, even in a branded generics market, branding is very important for long-term business.
Micro Labs has never advertised Dolo-650 to the public or in print or social media. We have always believed in generating prescriptions from doctors.

Prescriptions and the trust of doctors, efficacy of the product, undiluted focus on fever and efforts of marketing and sales team have helped in gaining the immense popularity for Dolo-650.

Moreover, in the branded generic market, a company’s reputation is directly linked to its brands and how they are perceived by the customers. Therefore, a company does its best to maintain the quality at its highest level.

In the case of Dolo-650, for many years we have come across doctors and patients who say that no other brand ‘works’ as well as Dolo-650. This has happened with many other brands of ours.

What in your opinion are the vital ingredients for a successful business?

I would say people. To encourage, engage and equip the employees to believe in the different opportunities and possibilities in business. The process too is important. To always follow the best practices in every step in the value chain right from the plant design, procurement, quality system to distribution, marketing and sales. Our factories have been receiving accolades and awards regularly for several years. Then comes vision. To be alert on the rapidly changing Business Eco System, and adapt to changes swiftly, taking proactive steps.

Lastly, could you give us a peek into your business? How is it run?

We strongly believe in attention to detail, as captured in our credo: Micro Labs—Because Health is in Small Details.

We strive to go into every minute detail, when it comes to quality of our brands, right from the plant design, procurement of raw material, machinery, quality systems and documentation to until it reaches the end consumers.

The same principle is practised in all spheres of our activities and functional departments. Our people are our greatest asset who play a stellar role in meeting the objectives of the organisation.

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