India’s Ranbaxy Was Theranos Before Theranos

Indian jugaad and pharmaceutical drugs just don’t mix.

Abheek Bhattacharya

November 15, 2019

India’s Ranbaxy Was Theranos Before Theranos
Bottles of Lies, Katherine Eban

In the middle of the business exposé Bottle of Lies, an American scientist working at a U.S. drugmaker run by South Asians stumbles across the concept of jugaad. “What we would view as cheating [in the West] would be viewed in [Indian] culture as creativity,” she learns to her horror after being asked to manipulate test results. 

Indian businesspeople are notorious for taking shortcuts and dodging rules as a way of navigating India’s sclerotic regulations, what many fondly call jugaad. But as Katherine Eban sets out to show, when Indian firms exporting generic drugs do jugaad, doctors and patients in the rest of the world are forced to navigate matters of life and death.

Eban, an investigative journalist at Fortune, has followed India’s generic pharmaceutical industry for years. She made waves in 2013 with her Fortune essay detailing how Ranbaxy, once one of India’s largest generic drug makers, falsified tests to get drug approvals, information that came into the open largely thanks to a single whistleblower. Bottle of Lies retreads that ground in a longer narrative arc, and connect the dots to the rest of the pharmaceutical industry. The result is equal parts investigative thriller, medical saga, and morality tale.