A prescription for success

Divya Tewari is finding cures for the big problems pharmaceutical customers face [tweet this]

Like a spoonful of sugar, Divya Tewari helps your medicine go down. She and her teams help it work better, too.

“If you have been prescribed a 500-milligram strength medication and you are given a one-gram tablet to swallow, you won’t like it. You’ll try to avoid it,” says Tewari, technical director, Global Pharmaceutical Research and Development, for Ashland Specialty Ingredients.

“If we can reduce the size of that tablet, you are going to be much more compliant with your medication. It impacts consumers directly and their quality of life,” she adds.

But an even more important impact is what happens once the active ingredients are in your body. Two of the key problems facing pharmaceutical companies today are poor bioavailability and solubility – these are the processes by which your stomach  breaks down tablets and your body absorbs the active medicinal ingredient into the blood stream.

Tewari and her teams in Wilmington, Del., and Hyderabad, India, are focusing on these areas because nearly all new drug compounds in development are poorly soluble and taken orally. Significantly, this includes medications to treat cancer, hypertension, obesity and viruses, such as HIV and hepatitis.

New molecules need new solutions

“Pharma companies are discovering new molecules to find treatments for these illnesses,” she says. “One of the projects I am working on is a designer polymer that would not only improve the bioavailability and solubility of the drug, but also make it more easy to manufacture and increase the shelf life of the tablets, making the delivery of new drug molecules possible.

By the numbers

The work Tewari is leading in Wilmington and Hyderabad is what makes Ashland a solutions destination for pharmaceutical companies, says Susan Lally McHugh, global strategic account manager, Pharmaceuticals.

“Not only are we trying to meet customer needs, but take them to the next level,” says McHugh. “AquaSolve™ HPMCAS has been out there for several years, but; what Divya is doing is the next generation of that material.

“That would bring this solution to another level, for molecules that manufacturers otherwise might not be able to bring to the market,” she says. “It’s absolutely breakthrough – brand new chemistry, working outside of the current chemistry that is there.”

The AquaSolve product, launched in November 2013, is a polymer made of cellulose and is commonly used as a tablet coating, helping control the release rate of the active ingredient. Of the products Tewari has worked on, it is her favorite.

“The chemistry was totally new. When we talk about cellulosics, we have two functional groups attached to the cellulose backbone. We were trying to put four groups on the backbone,” she explains. “It sounded very easy, but there is a lot more involved when you are trying to double up a molecule; so many substitutions and many different variations of them.”

Tewari’s depth and breadth of experience sets her apart from other scientists, says Deneen Law, marketing director, Pharmaceuticals.

“Divya has experience here with our chemistry and polymers, as well as experience as a formulator for branded and generic pharmaceutical products,” Law says. “So she really understands the needs and the language of our customers.

Support from beginning to end

“She can help customers with binders, disintegrants, film coatings, from the beginning of tablet development all the way the through the end and with the manufacturing processes.”

Another important skill is getting to the essence of the problem, says McHugh.

“She’s incredibly smart and she can distill a lot of very technical information down to a few key points,” McHugh says. “This is extremely helpful to me, as I’m less technical, as well as to customers trying to solve a problem.”

Tewari agrees that her background is special when working with customers.

“I do understand both sides of things,” she says. “How they work and how a formulator would think. That kind of sets me apart, because I do understand the customer's viewpoint, as well as how we think and how we function as an excipient company. That is a differentiating factor.

“I think my work is two parts: Making sure we are developing something which is new and useful for the customers, and technical services, or helping the customer resolve issues they have on an ongoing basis,” she adds.

That belief often leads to innovation.

“I think new ideas are important to innovation, but sometimes you just need patience and persistence,” she says. “Stick with the concept and if you have a vision, you have to just stay with it long enough. Flexibility is the other thing. You have to be able to change and adapt as you are trying to develop new products.

“My colleagues know if they are working on something with me or if they have assigned me a specific responsibility, I'm not going to quit until it's done,” she adds.

A constant flow of new thinking

That persistence and innovation are invaluable, says Law, adding: “I value having Divya on the pharmaceutical team. She comes in with fresh ideas all the time for how to do things, both on the commercial side and the technical side.”

McHugh says the impact is global.

“Divya is one of the major faces of our pharma group, not only in the United States, but all over the world. We had a lab opening and she  was in there with her team cleaning the lab - not only getting it ready for the ribbon-cutting, but for when customers showed up,” she recalls.

“She had customers that came from all over the world and that absolutely sets us apart.”

Meet Divya Tewari

Bouncing along for six hours in an old vehicle may not sound like a great time, but Divya Tewari thought it was wonderful family adventure when she was young.

“One of my favorite childhood memories is going to my dad’s village in India as a family,” she says. “He was very fond of where he was born. So, driving up there in an old-fashioned car on roads that were not really built properly, we had a lot of fun.

“Today, it takes about an hour to get there,” she adds.

Her father, the late Dr. Ram Kumar Tiwari (the original spelling), was a pediatrician and encouraged her to enter the field. When the time came for college entrance exams she decided to try for pharmacy as well. She was accepted and eventually earned three degrees.

After several years with three pharmaceutical companies, she joined Ashland in 2004.

“After a while, I thought, ‘You know, I have an idea of how the generic industry works, maybe I should also become familiar with how excipients are manufactured and what they do,’” she recalls. ”So I ended up here and I think I made the right choice.”

Divya and her family

Divya with her husband, Amitava, and their two children, Sahil and Mitra, at Disney's Animal Kingdom

Tewari was born in Kanpu, in northern India. She has an older brother and younger sister. Her mother, Nirmal Tiwari, is a homemaker in India.

Her husband, Dr. Amitava Mitra is a principal scientist in biopharmaceutics for another company. The couple has two children, Sahil, 10, and Ela, 4.

When she’s not working or reading motivational books (her favorite is “Seven Habits of Highly Effective People”), she enjoys traditional indian singing, dancing and cooking.

Divya and her family

Having fun at the park

Education

  • Masters of science in industrial pharmacy, St. John’s University, Jamaica, N.Y., 2003
  • Masters of pharmacy in pharmaceutics, Birla Institute of Technology and Science, Pilani, India, 2001
  • Bachelors of pharmacy, Birla Institute of Technology, Ranchi, India, 1999

Memberships

  • American Association of Pharmaceutical Scientists
  • American Association of Indian Pharmaceutical Scientists
  • Controlled Release Society
  • Ashland Women’s International Network, global vice-chair

Patents and publications (sample)