Himalaya: India's booming herbal healthcare company

 BANGALORE: Its raw materials are plants and it bases its products on texts dating back millennia, but don't dare call India's biggest herbal healthcare group a maker of "alternative medicine".

"It's high time people took us very seriously and did not view us as an alternative form of medicine," says
Philipe Haydon, the India chief executive of the Himalaya group from his office in tech and healthcare hub Bangalore.

"This is not a feel-good product. This will save a man's life," he says, taking a box from a stack next to his desk.

It is marked Liv 52, a blend of six herbs used to treat liver disorders, and is one of the firms best-selling products.

In two recent clinical tests, results published in the World Journal of Gastroenterology in 2007 and in the Antiviral Research journal in 2009 showed significant results.

"It so happens that the input material is a herb but the rest of it is very very modern," said the 50-year-old, who joined Himalaya in 1979.

The group is a healthcare success story, combining ancient traditional medicine known as
Ayurveda with cutting-edge technology.

Its air-tight production facility converts truck-loads of fragrant organic matter into eight million tablets a day and 10,000 bottles of medicine.

In the quality control area, men and women in lab coats sit next to conveyor belts as tablets fly past on their way into plastic pots carrying Himalaya's green and orange labels.

In the research and development wing, 250 scientists are working to find new combinations of herbs whose active ingredients are extracted and concentrated to form products that are then tested by humans.

Sales have quadrupled in the last five years to reach 12 billion rupees ($220 million) in 2012. Its target is a billion dollars in annual revenue in the next four years as it spreads into foreign markets.

Ayurvedic medicine -- which means the "science of life" in Sanskrit -- treats the physical and mental sources of illness through, for example, prescribing herbs in conjunction with yoga or massage.

Much of the knowledge, passed on by word of mouth, predates written records, but two volumes of remedies and prescriptions have survived called the Caraka Samhita and the Sushruta Samhita.

"This is where it all begins, these herbal texts that were handed down 3,000 years ago," said Haydon.

"We look at the kind of combinations (of herbs) that are suggested and from that point onwards we have a group of scientists who bring contemporary medicine and science to those texts."

The group now has 75 remedies, including treatments for hypertension, kidney stones and cholesterol.

An estimated 80 per cent of India's 1.2-billion population uses Ayurvedic medicine, partly for cost reasons, with a pack of 100 Liv 52 tablets selling for just 65 rupees ($1.20).