…Bring manufacturing back to USA. If there is one thing that COVID has taught us, it is that US has a very fragile supply chain in critical products like medicines & PPE’s. We need to be self-reliant and secure by ensuring that we make critical products in our country. In our quest for globalization and the cheapest manufacturing source, we forgot that farming out critical industries is fraught with risk and will leave us exposed. I am only hoping that what we are doing inspires a movement of more entrepreneurs and companies choosing to make more of their products in the US.
Aspart of my series about “individuals and organizations making an important social impact”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Viraj Gandhi.
Viraj is the owner and Director of Medivant Healthcare, which is dedicated to manufacturing medications on the FDA’s drug shortage list.
Viraj’s family has a long history of success and experience in the pharmaceutical industry. The family began their efforts in pharmaceuticals in 1960 where they became the first Indian Distributors for Pfizer. The family’s work continued throughout the decades and includes milestones such as setting up the first few pharmaceutical manufacturing facilities in India for oral solids, injectable manufacturing facility, launching API Manufacturing, and setting up India’s first organized pharmacy chain. In 2015, the family acquired their first US business, a specialty pharmacy in Phoenix, Arizona.
In 2015 Viraj acquired a small pharmacy in north Phoenix and grew it into Arizona’s leading specialty pharmacy over 3 years before exiting the business end 2018. During this time Viraj met with pharmacy directors of leading hospital systems in the Phoenix area where he understood the pain points with generic sterile injectables and decided to set up a local manufacturing facility to address this problem.
Over the last two decades, Gandhi’s leadership roles have spanned across a variety of healthcare companies, including ICare Opticals, Medicine Shoppe India, Gentech Laboratories, Dolphin Laboratories.
Thank you for joining us Viraj! Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?
The year India was free from British Rule, IP Gandhi, my Grandfather, started the first Indian pharmaceutical trading company. Over time he became Pfizer’s first distributor in India. From that he, with my father’s and uncle’s help, built manufacturing facilities around India. He built this business over his lifetime learning and initiating GMP quality to everything he did. As the years progressed and he aged, my Grandfather groomed my father to be his replacement to run the family business. He successfully passed the business along with his strong ethics, focus on quality for less, and business acumen down to my father. As the next generation, my father ran the pharmaceutical manufacturing business.
When I entered the family business I had a two-generation knowledge and experience edge, growing up learning high quality at a low price. It was that knowledge along with my family ethics that remained the same as the medicine business grew and grew over the decades. Manufacturing safe, high-grade medicine for less, is a part of my DNA and whenever I have a question, my father is always available to share his knowledge as well as the lessons taught to him from his father. It’s a family thing. We started local, helping our country of India, moved into international exports and now we make medicine in the USA for the USA.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began leading your company or organization?
I guess the most interesting story, was the day I decided to build the factory, pre COVID 19, about 2 years ago from today. I had just built a specialty pharmacy I owned in the Phoenix area and sold them to one of the major national pharmacy chains. In a parting conversation, the buyer’s representative told me how the US had a drug shortage problem in hospitals.
Coming from the first Indian medicine-making company, I was completely dumbfounded that the richest country in the world had a shortage. Upon further investigation, I discovered that indeed, there was a shortage of generic sterile injectables in hospitals. These are products that are freely available in my country and my family had experience in making many of them at our plants in India.
So, I decided to put down a deposit and rent dirt in Chandler, Arizona before they even broke ground on the building. I wanted a fresh building with enough room to create a fully automated facility, with room to grow. In order to follow and prepare for future cGMP guidelines, I needed to be way ahead of the curve. It had been a long time since a greenfield manufacturing plant of my type was set up in the US to sell generics. I was betting on the US responding in favor of US-made meds. I look back at that story, in today’s pandemic world, and I am glad I moved forward as a solutions-based company for the US in the US. We’re poised to make a difference and I’m poised to continue a rich family tradition!
Can you describe how you or your organization is making a significant social impact?
We are manufacturing pharmaceuticals that no one in the US wants to make. No one wants to make these medicines because of the low-profit margin/profit dollars in the business. Due to my business training in India where cost is very important, I understand how to make low-cost generic drugs. As such we have decided to make these out of favor products that are in high demand but lack supply. By making these pharmaceuticals we are hoping to make a dent in the immense problem of drug shortages.
Can you tell us a story about a particular individual who was impacted or helped by your cause?
There’s a name for the person we will impact the most- his name is Joe, “The Average Joe.” You see, when the Average Joe goes to a hospital for surgery, many critical medicines are needed for his procedure. Unbeknownst to Average Joe, there is a likely chance that those medicines will either not be available, imported from questionable offshore facilities, or will be grossly overpriced. Because of this, medical professionals are forced to either postpone procedures, charge outrageous amounts or use other medications with different side effects. So let the Average Joe know, we got his back moving forward!
Are there three things the community/society/politicians can do to help you address the root of the problem you are trying to solve?
I’m not one to tell politicians how to do their jobs, rather, I am one to work within the rules and laws presented to me and abide by them. In this case, we utilized the 503b rule and took it to the next level. We follow cGMP and have over-regulated ourselves to be prepared for years of more and more regulations. In other words, we are built to last. To address the rest of your question, society and the community are just now learning the true importance of the phrase “Made in America!” We just want to solve the current growing drug shortage and help as many hospitals, doctors, nurses and, most importantly, patients in the US healthcare system. The country desperately needs to become self-sufficient in pharmaceutical manufacturing. We can’t be relying on supply chain 10,000 miles away for medications? How do we keep the country & people safe?
How do you define “Leadership”? Can you explain what you mean or give an example?
Leadership is helping the people who work for you become better than you. If you can be replaced by the person working directly under you, then you have been a truly great leader.
Leadership also means providing the right environment/culture for everyone in your organization to perform at their best. We spend more money on our breakroom, providing our workers with anything and everything they need to enjoy their time off. We don’t have soda or snack vending machines, rather we ask our team what they want to eat and drink and provide it for free.
What are your “5 things I wish someone told me when I first started” and why. Please share a story or example for each.
I think that question would have been best answered by my grandfather. You see, he started the very first few Indian owned medicine manufacturing facilities. It is my grandfather who learned most from his mistakes. Whatever mistakes he made, taught him how to make the highest quality products at the lowest prices. I am the third generation, being raised in the medicine making business. Making high-quality medicine at low costs is in my DNA. I am the result of decades of mistakes that became lessons, and lessons that became successes. When I have an issue, I have the luxury of calling my father. So I truly can’t offer 5 things, as I was raised learning “500 things I wish someone told me when I first started!”
If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be?
Bring manufacturing back to USA. If there is one thing that COVID has taught us, it is that US has a very fragile supply chain in critical products like medicines & PPE’s. We need to be self-reliant and secure by ensuring that we make critical products in our country. In our quest for globalization and the cheapest manufacturing source, we forgot that farming out critical industries is fraught with risk and will leave us exposed. I am only hoping that what we are doing inspires a movement of more entrepreneurs and companies choosing to make more of their products in the US.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
In the words of the father of my nation, Mahatma Gandhi “The future depends on what you do today”. So I went ahead and set up a pharmaceutical manufacturing facility in the US. Today we hear TV pundits who are espousing that companies should manufacture critical products in the US; but who is doing this? We decided to do something about it.