Chairman of Indian pharmaceutical firm Cipla, Yusuf Hamied (Photo: JUSTIN TALLIS/AFP via Getty Images).
Radhakrishna N S
By Amit Roy
YUSUF HAMIED has given an undertaking to Eastern Eye that he will help poor people in India get the Covid vaccine.
This is crucial because there are already worries that when it comes to the distribution of vaccines, there will be a poor-rich divide across countries and societies.
Yusuf, who is head of the Indian pharma giant Cipla, said his firm did not manufacture vaccines.
“But we will market the vaccines and give it free to those who cannot afford them through our charitable arm,” Yusuf assured me.
He made the same pledge on Monday (30) when Cambridge University announced that its chemistry department was being renamed after Yusuf Hamied, a Christ’s College alumnus, until 2050 in recognition of the “transformational gift” it had received from him.
Yusuf told the meeting attended by senior academics: “Twenty years ago, we played a pivotal and pioneering role in the fight against HIV/AIDS, essentially in Africa.
“Currently, we are again in the forefront in the fight against Covid-19 by supplying medications such as Favipiravir, Remdesivir and Tocilizumab, as also selected diagnostics and sanitary products.
“Regrettably, we do not manufacture vaccines, but hopefully we will use our marketing network for effective distribution.”
Between 1954 and 1960, Yusuf studied at the chemistry department in Lensfield Road, Cambridge, first as an undergraduate and then for his PhD.
“Since leaving Cambridge in 1960, I have been totally involved with healthcare and the pharma industry primarily in India,” he said.
“We laid the foundation for basic drug manufacture in our country. We fought with the government and persuaded them to change the laws covering intellectual property, so there was no monopoly in three major areas – agriculture, food and health. Consequently, the Indian pharmaceutical industry thrived and today is considered the ‘pharmacy centre of the world’.
“Over the years, my mission has been to access quality, affordable drugs for all and that none should be denied. I sincerely believe there should be no divide between the developed, emerging and third world in healthcare.”
On a personal note, he said: “There’s always been a deep bond between myself, the university, Christ’s College, the department of chemistry, and this bond has now lasted for 66 years and will continue till my dying days.
“I have been truly blessed by my journey throughout my life, in particular my years in Cambridge … The recognition by the department of chemistry in revising its name is truly humbling. What is more rewarding for me is that there will be a Yusuf Hamied Chemistry fund in perpetuity for students and scholars in chemistry.”
He emphasised that “the work done in Lensfield Road in the mid-to-late 1950s led to (James) Watson and (Francis) Crick developing the double helix structure of DNA”.
The vice-chancellor of Cambridge University, Stephen Toope, formally announced the naming of Yusuf Hamied Department of Chemistry.
“We should pause there,” he said. “Now, of course, a university would not rename any department lightly.
“The decision to do so is based on something utterly remarkable, a gift that transforms the capacity of the department to attract and retain the world’s most gifted academic talent, a gift that will support early career researchers and doctoral candidates, a gift that will ensure that chemistry at Cambridge remains forever at the international pinnacle of teaching and research.”
His sentiments were echoed by James Keeler, the current head of the chemistry department, who explained the significance of Yusuf’s gift: “What your gift will give us is independence of action. And under the current environment, when we are subject to the whims of governments and research councils, having the ability to act independently according to our own priorities, is incredibly important to us. And it will give us an advantage that very few chemistry departments in the country, and dare I say, around the world have.
“So this is really exceptionally important for us. And as the vice-chancellor has said, it is a transformational gift.”
Keeler went on: “The strategy the department has had – unspoken and sometimes spoken – is that we recruit the best people, we support them. And we know that they will flourish. And your gift will enable us to go on in that way to recruit the best people, and really very importantly, to make sure that they have the facilities and the resources they need in order to be able to flourish.
“And that means all the way from the most senior august professor down to the most junior PhD student – and we know especially in chemistry. And I think it’s a unique feature of the subject that PhD students are the absolute lifeblood of research here. The good high quality PhD student is the real driver of innovation, the real drivers of hard work … That is again incredibly important to us.”
There was a brief comment from Jane Stapleton, the first woman to be Master of Christ’s in nearly 600 years: “There’s always excitement here when we hear you’ll be visiting. And when you do this, it’s always marvellous to hear you say with that marvellous twinkle in your eye, ‘When I step back into Christ’s, I feel like a young man.’
“When you come to visit, your energy and enthusiasm are infectious. Christ’s has no greater supporter than you.”
The size of Yusuf’s donation to the university has not been revealed but is said to be “substantial”.
Incidentally, as Professor Sir Venkatraman Ramakrishnan stepped down on Monday (30) as Royal Society president, it was announced Yusuf has extended his collaboration with the Society by five years.