Chanda Zaveri’s life reads like a book of fiction whichever way you look at it. There is the rags to riches angle; then there are lessons on how chances and opportunities have to be seized with daring; and the effective juxtaposition of science and beauty that she has done in the business space. But what’s putting her in the limelight now is a product from her Southern California lab called Cell Armour, which, she told India-West from her home in Palos Verdes, is a “simple product” and can stave off the deadly Covid-19. It was not formulated for the coronavirus but she strongly believes that it will help her slogan, “Don’t lock down people, lock down the virus.”
To understand what her pill is all about, it might help to understand the basics of the virus. The coronavirus has 16 different non-structural proteins of which numbers 3 through 6 make air bubbles around the lungs. Having entered and found their home, they move into the lungs. Soon the lungs begin filling up with water and the person feels like they are drowning and need help breathing. “My point is we should try and stop the first entry before it attaches to the cell and begins to establish,” says the Indian American entrepreneur.
Her pill is a virus fusion inhibitor created with Humic Acid mixed with a non-specific polypeptide. The former is nothing but dirt and, Zaveri says, has been known in India for its healthful properties for centuries, as she narrates a story of how the Mughals when they first came to India fell ill and were advised by the locals to eat it.
“The Humic Acid creates a fish net in the body and the virus that is floating in the body gets caught in it,” she explained to India-West. With the polypeptide acting as a radar for the Humic Acid, it has no means of attaching itself to a cell, and with no means of replicating on its own, it dies.
Formulated more as a supplement, it has been tested in Singapore, Hong Kong, South Korea, China and on some patients in London, and has borne results. Severe cases have been administered mega doses and within three days have reported being free of Covid-19, Zaveri says.
The side effects of these mega doses was diarrhea and loss of weight, but that seemed minor to officials in Hong Kong, and Zaveri has shipped over five million Southern California-manufactured pills worth $2 million. She expects to do so soon to Dubai and India.
In the U.S., bureaucracy has been an issue. “We are waiting for a vaccine, but when you are at war with an unknown biological virus, you don’t wait. We have to move to save lives,” she told India-West.
A self-made multi-millionaire, Zaveri is hesitant to speak about money, and when pressed, reiterated firmly that it is not her angle nor primary motivation. Her pitch for Cell Armour is not connected with interests to enrich herself, she emphasizes, adding, “When I watch TV and see people dying every day, it is not possible to stand by and not try to help.”
Her desire to help, Zaveri says, has motivated most of her business life. She began as a partner in Geneda Corporation in the 1980s manufacturing a small peptide that was not yet common in cosmetics. “We made a lot of money,” acknowledged the scientist-investor. When the management fell out with each other, she started her own company, and she can be tracked through the firms Activor, Actiogen and now, Soul Biotech.
In 1994, Zaveri began developing a series of products that now numbers 37, based on “unique peptide chemistry.” As a youth, she had struggled with a medical condition that had left her skin severely damaged. The Pink Beverly Hills line she launched include cleansers, toners, day and night creams, sunscreens and stretch-mark removers, but she dismisses all talk of famous clients.
“Every cosmetic I make is functional. It’s not about a look-good product. It is meant to revitalize skin for aging, damaged and pain driven conditions. Yes, when there is emotional stress in not looking good, this helps them.”
Still, Zaveri is known for having played a huge role in the ubiquitous skin lightening product, “Fair and Handsome.” She is quick to say: “That is not the message I want to give to people. I want to take away the pain. There are many who are hurt in India with dark spots and I did it for my brother.” Her brother is R.S. Agarwal, chairman of the Emami group of companies known for their retail cosmetic products in India.
The Marwari family that she was born into and fled in 1984 after being told to get into an arranged marriage was a rich one. When her family heard about her dream of winning a Nobel Prize, they were not impressed with the prize money. So she got in touch with David Ross in Boston, Mass., who she had a chance meeting with when he had come to Kolkata as a tourist. With his sponsorship letter and money from the sale of her diamond rings, she bought an air ticket and landed penniless in the U.S. She was 17.
Zaveri struggled, working as a maid and doing odd jobs. Her next chance meeting was with Ross’s father-in-law, who adopted her. She attended college in California and, while at Cal Tech, had the privilege of meeting Linus Pauling, then in his 90s. She seized that opportunity and told the two-time Nobel laureate that she would wash the petri dishes in his lab as long as she could hang around.
“He had a great sense of humor and he was my guru. He talked to me about Vitamin C which he used to take with honey,” she recalled to India-West.
Slowly, her relations with her family in India healed and she traveled back to meet them: three brothers who live in Kolkata and a sister in Jaipur. “The whole world is my family,” said Zaveri fondly. “David Ross lives now in San Diego, he is my American brother.”
She does not regret the struggle of her early life and family estrangement, saying, “Dream big and make it come true. Even if it doesn’t come true…if you don’t dream, nothing is going to happen. In the inside there has to be big happiness.” With her dream of becoming a scientist achieved, Zaveri dreams now of the rehabilitation of victims of trafficking, especially girls, and is doing her bit not just in India but wherever she sees a need.
Another thing she has no regrets about: “I am single and I want to be single! I love my freedom!”