It was 2000. Mohammed Moin, from Shaymnagar village of Sunamganj district, was preparing for higher studies abroad after finishing higher secondary at Sylhet Cadet College. Meanwhile, his father Shamsul Islam, a school teacher, was diagnosed with cancer. Mohammed Moin's family struggled to find cancer drugs for Shamsul Islam. The medicines that were available locally were out of their reach. Shamsul Islam died in six months.
The life of Mohammed Moin was turned upside down by the death of his father. This prompted him to eventually found the biotechnology company Somru BioScience in Canada with a mission to develop breakthrough antibody technology for research, diagnostic and therapeutic applications.
Mohammed Moin came to Bangladesh on a brief visit recently and he spoke to Prothom Alo about his startup and his entrepreneurial journey.
He said when his father was ill he had no knowledge about cancer healthcare. At that time, his elder brother was working at a research lab of a US drug company. They could not find most of the drugs that his brother prescribed for their father in Bangladesh and price of the medicines that were available locally were very high. “At that time, I decided that I would work to make life-saving drugs more accessible and affordable,” he said.
Mohammed Moin was interested to the study of computer science since his childhood. So, he went to Trent University in Ontario, Canada to study computer science and bioinformatics in 2001. He also thought about getting a job besides his studies, but at that time opportunities for part-time work were very limited for foreign students in Canada. He then transferred his credits to the University of Prince Edward Island in Charlottetown, Prince Edward Island, Canada.
He did internship at various technology firms in the third and final year of his graduation. Meantime, he got married with Dihan Ahsan while he was in her final year. The couple sublet the ground floor of a house on the Prince Edward Island. Mohammed Moin joined the drug information management division of a technology firm in 2007. He switched to another tech firm in 2012 and Somru BioScience was launched the same year.
At that time, Rafiqul Islam, elder brother of Mohammad Moin worked as director at Amgen and Labcorp Drug Development, formerly Covance. Since his elder brother has experience on developing drugs and he has the technological experience, Mohammad Moin planned to do something new with his brother.
This entrepreneur said it takes about 10 years to start commercial production of a biological drug after passing various steps and these medicines, too, have high prices. In this case, biosimilar brings little relief and it is possible to manufacture drugs in a short time and with an affordable price. So, Mohammad Moin and his brother started working on biosimilar drugs.
A biosimilar is a biologic medical product, which is nearly an identical copy of an original product that is manufactured by a different company. Biosimilars are officially approved versions of original "innovator" products and can be manufactured when the original product's patent expires.
Back then, Shamsul Islam, father of Mohammad Moin, was known as ‘Somru Master’ in Sylhet. So, Mohammad Moin registered his company as Somru BioSceince Inc in 2012 and started his startup journey with only UDS 100,000. At that beginning, the company was operated from a space at the incubation centre of Canada’s provisional national research council but, it set up a research lab on its own land.
At present, Somru BioScience employs 50 specialists and workers while Mohammad Moin's wife, Dihan Ahsan, and his sister-in-law Clarinda Islam, are involved with the operation of the company.
To date, Somru BioScience has received USD 18.5 million in investment and fund assistance from the federal and the provisional governments of Canada. The firm also receives recognition of the Canadian federal government for its work.
Somru BioScience mainly provides technological assistance in developing biological drugs and that include identifying types of drugs, organising global clinical trial, conducting data analysis, testing drug efficacy and safety, collecting approval of US drug regulator Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and European Union drug regulator European Medicines Agency and arranging permission to marketing drugs. The US is the main market of Somru BioScience’s product and science, followed by the Europe.
Somru BioScience set up its first laboratory at Ahmedabad in the Indian state of Gujarat in 2021 and is going to open the second one at Bengaluru in Karnataka state.Currently, the firm is working on 112 drugs with more than 100 companies in 23 countries.
There is a good prospect of manufacturing biosimilar drugs in Bangladesh, Mohammad Moin said adding, if it happens these medicines can be exported in addition to meeting local demand.
Somru BioScience wants to be top global biosimilar technology provider in future. This startup is now going ahead with a plan to manufacture biosimilar drugs by itself in future. Currently, they are working with five types of cancer drugs. Besides, the firm established Somru Foundation in Sylhet to improve education and healthcare of the underprivileged.
“The death of my father was a message for me. I only want people to be able to purchase life-saving drugs at low prices,” Mohammad Moin said.
This report appeared in the print and online edition of Prothom Alo and has been rewritten in English by Hasanul Banna