The following is an interview with State Merited Health Worker and pharmacologist L.Khurelbaatar about the pharmaceuntical industry in Mongolia. He is the founder of Monos Group, one of the leading companies in the pharmaceutical field in Mongolia, who authored several books and holds 54 patents to his name.
You once said that one needs self-discipline to succeed and that it’s never too late to start something new. Are you working on anything new?
The reason why some people do better in life than others despite growing under the same environment is connected to self-discipline. We can achieve anything if we’re able to control ourselves. The bridge to success is self-discipline.
For example, a person can learn 3,650 new words a year if they memorize 10 words a day. Two years ago, the world’s youngest billionaire Mark Zuckerberg encouraged everyone to read one book every week. If you’re able to follow this plan, you’ll have read 52 books in a year. A person can surpass others if he reads at least 10 professional books a year. Anyone can do this but most people don’t because they can’t make time for it. A recent study showed that people watch television four to five hours a day. Take just an hour from it to read a book.
You need to keep moving forward to reach your final destination. Some people lose their path due to lack of patience and self-discipline while others lack courage. The start is always hard. I run five kilometers every morning. I feel out of breath and my hands and legs shake after running a kilometer but it gets better after a while. Also, it’s better to stop procrastinating.
Right now, I’m developing a new kidney medication. Our development team discussed the new medication for four hours this morning (April 7). We’ve tested over 10 different medicine formulas on rat to see which is more effective.
I try to spend more than a half of my work time at the Mongolian Academy of Medical Sciences (MAMS), but in reality, I only spend 30 to 40 percent of my time on academic work. This is mainly due to economic decline. Our company established Enkhriin Shuuder IV solution manufacturing factory with five other companies. Our monthly loan repayment is 100 million MNT. Lately, I’ve been spending more time on business work to overcome the economic crisis with minimal loss and make sure I don’t have to lay off 1,500 employees.
Pharmaceuticals seem to be a very profitable business in Mongolia. Do you have any challenges while running a pharmacy?
Every person on earth spends an average of 140 USD to 150 USD on medicine every year. Mongolians spend around 30 USD a year, which is nearly five times less than the world average spending. Mongolia’s economy and people’s low income influences this. However, Mongolians use much more medicine than other consumers around the world quantity-wise.
We use the cheapest medicines that were developed a long time ago to treat symptoms and not the actual root of a disease. People avoid modern medications because they’re more expensive. Yet, they’re willing to buy expensive cars, smartphones and brand clothing.
The public isn’t valuing their health as much as they need to. This is related to their mentality. They just spend away all their money when they fall ill with a chronic disease. Mongolians are bad at taking preventive measures. But I’m glad to see that more and more young people are hiking at Bogd Khan Mountain in large groups, running at the National Garden Park, and regularly exercising at gyms.
How much of the medicines sold in Mongolia is domestically produced?
I’ve been working as the president of the Mongolian Pharmaceutical Manufacturers Association for 19 years. Fake medicines are usually sold in small communities and markets, but it doesn’t exceed more than five to 10 percent of the total medicine sales. The main problem is that the Mongolian market has too much expired and cheap medicines.
Mongolia imports medicines from all 12 of the top 20 pharmaceutical companies in the world. It’s unbeneficial to produce medication for a small population. It’s said that a [manufacturing company] must target a market of no less than 10 million people. Mongolia has only three million people. Producing in small quantity costs more and increases the final price. We don’t use medicines every day so our domestic medicinal factories need to develop high-quality products and enter international markets to work more efficiently.
Monos Group spent around 10 million USD to open a factory consistent with the Good Manufacturing Practice international standard. This factory produces products that are twice the price of locally sold products because it uses modern technologies and laboratories and has many monitoring procedures. But their quality and price are similar to those of large manufacturs in the world.
Do you export any pharmaceutical and medicinal products?
Our products are exported in small quantities for testing purposes. All medicines must be registered by the importing country. To do this, you have to show all relevant tests conducted on animals and people. When we first tried to export Nefromon product, developed to treat kidney inflammation, to Russia, our test results weren’t accepted because they weren’t conducted by an internationally accredited organization. So we had to do all necessary tests all over again. Nefromon was tested on animals for five years in Russia to identify its effects on embryos, side effect and cellular level results. Then, it was tested on humans. We were finally permitted to export it to Russia after losing so many years. Now, we’re planning to export a bioactive product to Japan.
You hold the right to the most number of patents in Mongolia, specifically 54. How do you find ideas for new medicines?
I have 54 patents including Biomon, Biogen and Maral beauty products; Tseneg and Enkhjin teas; and cultivation methods for some herbs and new drugs such as Chitamon, Ervalkor, and Tonzilmon. I’ve locally grown over 100 plants at the herb cultivation station of the MAMS. In other words, I have a collection of live herbal plants and a gene pool of rare plants.
After working 17 years at the cultivation station, I have grown very rare plants that are used all over the world, including Astragalus and Rhodiola. It takes an unimaginable amount of effort to cultivate wild plants. Had I known this earlier, I doubt that I would have started this project.
Traditional medicine is such an amazing field. The Mongolian traditional medicine originated in Tibet and is full of complex theories. I’m studying only a small part of this huge field.
While traveling in Japan just recently, I found their new medicine made with extracts from the Banaba leaf and ground pear, which is used to alleviate diabetes symptoms. I brought back ground pears to Mongolia and cultivated it. Apparently, Banaba or Lagerstroemia speciose is common in Malaysia. I can get seeds from there.
I think I can develop a medicine that can reduce cholesterol and sugar level in the blood better than the Japanese medicine if I can get my hands on Banaba leaf. Like so, I get ideas from others. I read a lot of books, surf the internet, talk with people interested in ancient herbs, and attend academic meetings for new ideas.
Would you say Mongolia’s eco-system is rich in herbal resources? Is it hard to find herbs for new medicines?
It’s difficult to find some herbs. For instance, Iris Lactea is used to make Nefromon but it grows in small amounts in the Gobi Desert. Russia needs three million packets of Nefromon, not 300,000. With my current access to Iris Lactea, I can only produce 300,000 a year. I’ve been trying to cultivate this plant since 2005. I studied the plant for two to three years and then went out on an expedition.
I delayed my work by another year as the plant hadn’t grown due to a drought. Apparently, it takes up to three years to determine plant resources in the Gobi Desert. When I found some Iris Lactea, I cultivated it through the plant cell cultivation method with other scientists. We didn’t get the results we’d hoped for.
An elder once told me to leave alone endangered plants, especially those that grow in the Gobi Desert because they are one of the oldest plants in the world and are hard to cultivate. I replied that I would definitely cultivate the plant even if I had to mutate it or use laser beams. Now that I think about it, I probably should’ve listened to him. I mean, I spent 12 years trying to cultivate this plant and still haven’t found a way.
Can you share a word of advice to our readers?
The biggest deeds a person can do are write books and plant trees. I’ve written quite a few books for young researchers and planted over 50,000 trees. Most of them are seabuckthorn trees. I plan to plant even more in the coming years.
The meaning of life, in my opinion, is creating new things. There are scientists who weren’t able to develop a single medicine after spending practically all their life on it. I’m lucky to have been able to produce nearly everything I wanted and even founded a pharmacy. I feel bliss when I see patients cure from their disease with the help of my medicines. People are born to be happy but a lot of things can vary depending on what you consider happiness.