Scientist Spotlight: Kiran Mazumdar-Shaw

"I really believe that entrepreneurship is about being able to face failure, manage failure and succeed after failing"
-Kiran Mazumdar-Shaw
Image from Biocon.
In previous posts, we’ve shined our spotlight on past scientists with amazing discoveries. Now, we turn our attention to someone who is still innovating and pushing scientific boundaries. Kiran Mazumdar-Shaw was born in Bangalore, India. She attended Carmel College and focused on both biology and zoology. Unable to get into medical school, Mazumdar-Shaw decided to follow in her father’s footsteps by studying brewing and fermentation. She went on to earn the degree of Master Brewer and trained at several breweries. However, in those times, India mainly saw the job position of master brewer and brewing as a man’s work, which forced Kiran to look elsewhere in the world1.
Before taking on a position in Scotland, Mazumdar-Shaw met Leslie Auchincloss, the founder of Biocon Biochemicals Limited. Based in Ireland, this company created several enzymes key to the brewing process and other food or textile-related areas. Auchincloss convinced Mazumdar-Shaw to work with Biocon to create an Indian subsidiary. Biocon India had humble beginnings as it originated in Mazumdar-Shaw’s garage. Funding was hard to come by due to her youth, gender, and unknown business acumen (not to mention that power, high quality water, and equipment weren’t always easy to access). It wasn’t until she happened upon a banker at a social gathering that she was able to secure a loan1.
The company first started to work on isolating papain, a meat tenderizer that can also digest antibodies into Fab and Fc fragments. They also produced isinglass, which “clears” beer by causing yeast to settle into a jelly-like mass that can be separated from beer. Biocon India would become the first Indian company to export to the US and Europe. Its success allowed Biocon to rapidly expand within its first year, upgrading their facilities to a 20-acre property1.
Papain is isolated from papayas. Isinglass is obtained from the bladder of various fish.
Mazumdar-Shaw would later shift her focus by concentrating on products and research supporting diabetes, cancer, and autoimmune studies. She formed Syngene and Clinigene subsidiaries to focus on these new areas. Kiran would also go on to purchase the original Biocon Ireland. Biocon eventually issued an IPO and closed that day with an estimated market value of $1.1 billion dollars2! The company is now India’s most publicly traded stock and generated $460 billion in revenue last year. Mazumdar-Shaw herself is worth an estimated $1.2 billion and made Forbes’ list of the world’s 100 most powerful women3.
Mazumdar-Shaw has also focused her efforts on making drugs more affordable in developing countries where resources may not be as plentiful. When the patent expired for Lovastatin (a drug that lowers cholesterol), Biocon immediately began producing it and other types of statins. Statins would eventually make up a large percentage of Biocon’s portfolio. Additional projects for Biocon include treatments for vitiligo, psoriasis, rheumatoid arthritis, and oral cancer2.
Lovastatin helps treat abnormal levels of lipids in the blood and prevent cardiovascular disease.
Mazumdar-Shaw has helped open several clinics in rural areas in India, providing medical care to those who cannot afford it. The center also helps detect cancer at earlier stages. Kiran’s crusade against cancer began when her best friend died of the disease. Her husband and mother would also suffer from bouts of illness with cancer. In 2009, she opened the Mazumdar-Shaw Cancer Center1.
The Mazumdar-Shaw Cancer Center.
Image from Weill Cornell Medical College.
Despite some humble beginnings and a bevy of obstacles, Kiran Mazumdar-Shaw has made amazing strides as a businesswoman, entrepreneur, and scientist. From fermentation enzymes to cancer treatments, Mazumdar-Shaw is helping to shape the technology and development of her homeland. Know of any other inspiring scientists? Contact us at

Just when I thought I got the hang of science...
  1. Kiran Mazumdar-Shaw’s on Wikipedia
  2. Beer to Biopharmaceuticals: Biocon’s Kiran Mazumdar-Shaw
  3. Kiran Mazumdar-Shaw on Forbes
  4. The Catalyst Series: Women in Chemistry

Contributed by Ken Lau, PhD.
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