Under the radar: Why Warren-based Cipla is one of the most important drugmakers you’ve never heard of

There’s a billion-dollar drugmaker in Warren … and, as one of its executives concedes himself, it’s probably not a name you’ve heard of.

Although the U.S. corporate presence of Cipla in New Jersey is only several years old, it’s far from a new name in drugmaking. The company was built in India before it even gained independence from the British Empire. It was one of the first Indian pharmaceutical companies to receive U.S. Food and Drug Administration sign-off.

Arunesh Verma, CEO of the company’s North American business arm, said the business has risen to prominence as one of the global leaders in the generic pharmaceutical industry.

“But we’re certainly not as well-known,” he said. “We don’t enjoy the brand equity that some of the other big (pharmaceutical) names in the United States do, but we’re a great growth story.

“We want to make sure the state, and potential employees here, hear that from us.”

The company’s Warren base already employs about 75 people, more than double what it was two years ago. It expects to cross over 100 employees within about another year.

Cipla, among other products, brings inhaler devices to a global market. It’s been providing access to generic medicines for more than three decades in the U.S., where a reported 37 million Americans live with chronic lung disease. Over the years, it’s forged a reputation in the country’s pharma sector for being a top player in the generic respiratory medicine space.

But, it wasn’t until 2018 that it landed in Garden State, where it decided to settle in after leaving a former U.S. base in Florida.

Fighting the pandemic

In the early days of the pandemic, in spring 2020, the perhaps little-known but industry-leading Indian drugmaker Cipla was called on to cater to the needs of COVID-19 patients suffering from breathing difficulties.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration, facing a shortage of albuterol inhalers, granted emergency use approval to Cipla’s generic version of that inhaler.

These albuterol inhalers can treat or prevent bronchospasm, a condition that causes difficulty in breathing in certain patients’ ages. The FDA reported at the time that these inhalers were found to help those suffering the breathing difficulty symptoms of COVID-19.

“New Jersey is a very attractive destination for pharmaceutical companies, even more so for generics companies,” Verma said. “It’s probably the best destination in the United States from a talent perspective. There’s also a lot of the investment banking community and financial powerhouses in the region, as well as access to international airports.”

All of that, and especially that talent piece for a growing company, adds up to a compelling environment for a global generics maker to wind up, Verma added.

Warren is just one of almost 50 manufacturing sites the company has around the world. Verma explained that diversifying manufacturing between sites in the U.S. and outside of it provides a dependable fall-back in the case of supply chain hiccups.

“We believe in high-quality medication; we also believe in reliability of supply,” Verma said. “It’s important, when we make a commitment of supplying products to patients, we live up to those commitments.”

In all, the company employs nearly 800 people across its U.S. footprint.

Even if a status as a leader in dispensed generic drugs doesn’t make it a household name, Verma takes a lot of pride in Cipla getting press for its workplace accolades and recognition. Not a lot of generic pharmaceutical manufacturers are taking home those awards, he said.

So, what are they doing differently? Verma said it’s in open lines of communication with employees, facilitated by regular town hall meetings.

“We’ve got more than 30 nationalities working with us in the United States across various locations,” he said. “And everyone feels enabled, irrespective of their backgrounds, to speak up.”