Dr. Yusuf Hamied: Generic Drug Maverick

He is known as the thorn in the side of multinational drug companies. Ever since February, when he announced that his company would sell a triple-therapy of AIDS anti-retrovirals to Africa at a barely break-even cost of $350 per patient per year, Yusuf Hamied, chairman of the Indian generic drug company Cipla, has been on the front lines of what's known as the "Patients vs. Patents" battle.

Hamied says that his motivation is simple. Having witnessed a devastating earthquake that killed 17,000 people in India's Gujarat province in January, he's determined to do what he can to prevent foreseeable tragedies such as AIDS. "My idea of a better-ordered world is one in which medical discoveries would be free of patents and there would be no profiteering from life or death," he told

To his critics, who charge that the price war kicked off by Cipla will prevent multinationals from recouping R&D costs, Hamied protests that he's willing to pay a licensing fee for any drug he copies. As yet, though, no multinational has taken him up on his offer of 5 percent of royalties. Neither did the Indian government accept his offer of free nevirapine, which is used to stop mother-to-child transmission of HIV. "I can't understand it," he told London's New Scientist magazine. "In 2010 India could be what Africa is today. It makes my blood boil."

Hamied traces his concern for India back to his father, Khwaja Abdul Hamied, an organic chemist who, bitterly opposed to British colonialism, dreamed of creating a great Indian company. After studying chemistry in Berlin in the 1920s, K.A. Hamied returned to India and founded Cipla in a rented bungalow in 1935. When he died in 1972, Yusuf—who has a Ph.D. in Chemistry from Cambridge University—became its CEO.

These days, Cipla's turnover is $220 million a year, and Hamied's personal fortune stands at $550 million. The company manufactures 400 medications and exports its products to 125 countries. In Hamied's view, this abundance creates a moral imperative to address the AIDS pandemic—even if it brings the wrath of Big Pharma and the World Trade Organization down on his head. "I've nothing against the multinationals," he recently told United Press International. "Let them do what they want to do. I'm doing my little bit."

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