India’s quest to become a global biotech hub by 2025!

The BioVoice News takes you through the opinions of top policymakers on the preparations to transform Indian biotech industry into a giant hub in next crucial eight years


The Indian biotechnology industry has set on its biggest mission ever!

The long-term goal is to scale up itself to a big $100 billion sector by 2025. Policymakers dealing with the subject are hopeful of achieving the target while citing the number of programs that have been launched by the government. One may question them on implementation but of course, the intent is clearly visible in their enthusiasm and energy. However, it goes without saying that while there are opportunities and efforts to tap them, there are roadblocks too in the way. Whether we are doing enough on the ground to reach this set goal is the question one may ask at the outset.
Let’s look at the current situation. India is the twelfth-largest biotechnology market in the world with a 2 percent share of the global market. It ranks third in Asia-Pacific region after Japan and China. As per the BioVoice’s own estimates, the Indian biotech industry is expected to have grown approximately to be a $8 billion sector during 2016-17, at a growth rate of close to 12 percent. However, according to a special report prepared by the Association of Biotechnology-Led Enterprises (ABLE), the India’s fast-growing bio-economy has crossed the $35.1 billion in 2015. The difference between figures is due to the wider inclusion of agriculture, startups and services sector in the latter.
Now coming to the startup ecosystem, we again refer to the ABLE’s latest report that suggested that there are 1022 new startups related to biosciences that have come up in the country. It mentioned that over $2.8 billion (Rs 18,700 crore) investments have happened in five years from 2012 to 2016. According to the study, private equity investments into these companies totaled around $2.6 billion and the balance came from own investments, government grants, and others like HNIs. Year 2015 was the best one attracting $851 million. The biopharma sector dominated the industry, accounting for 57 percent share of the companies formed followed by bioresearch (16%), agribiotech (10%), and bioindustrial (9%). Overall nearly 40 percent of the companies were involved in the manufacture of products and ingredients. About 16 percent start-ups were each into medical health instruments/appliances and R&D services respectively.

Mission Startup: Bangalore is the biotech start-up capital of India hosting 190 of the 1022 biotech start-ups formed in the last five years. National Capital Region (NCR) ranks second with 164 startups followed closely by Mumbai (163) and Hyderabad (160).

Bangalore is the biotech start-up capital of India hosting 190 of the 1022 biotech start-ups formed in the last five years. National Capital Region (NCR) ranks second with 164 startups followed closely by Mumbai (163) and Hyderabad (160). Of the 1022 new start-ups, 104 were formed in 2016; 367 during 2014 and 2015. Another 551 companies were established between the years 2012 and 2014.
“This is good news and we are aiming to double this number with the ABLE Start-Ups 2020 initiative to take the count to 2020 companies by the year 2020 and $5 billion of investments,” mentioned Dr PM Murali, President, ABLE in his comments.

Action begins at home!

At the recent event to celebrate the 5th foundation day of the Biotechnology Industry Research Assistance Council (BIRAC), the stakeholders exchanged ideas on making India a biotech hub by next decade. Among the issues that featured prominently in the discussion were the challenges and opportunities that will decide the fate of the target.
Ms Kiran Mazumdar Shaw, Chairperson, Biocon is of the view that a lot needs to be done at industrial level to reach the big target that has been set. “It is the time to build upon what we have created. Data mining is a big opportunity where we have to work hard. Need to have well aligned structure in place where government, regulators and industry work together. Working in silos won’t work for us any longer,” she stated in her speech at BIRAC’s event in Delhi. Talking about opportunities, she pointed out towards the biodiversity act which according to her is draconian and needs to be recast for the industry’s ease of research and development. “DBT must take ownership of the vast genomics data. The two-year degree course in genetic counselling must be introduced.”
The Department of Biotechnology’s Secretary, Dr K VijayRaghavan believes that the ball has been set rolling and India is slowly making strides towards being a global biotech hub. “Climate change is a big challenge and an opportunity. We must devise ways to tap the potential through research. Also, at academic level, we must ensure that research institutes have institutional norms like the way IITs have. Need to change our thinking.”
Giving a sneak peek on India’s global initiatives, Dr Raghavan mentioned, “CEPI, Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations, is a “public-private coalition where we are trying to contain potential epidemics by speeding development of vaccines. Also, an initiative in genomics will be announced shortly. Dr Renu Swarup led consortia is in talks with World Bank for a partnership to promote research in key areas for next five years. We are sure of great outcomes.” He further mentioned about the opportunity areas he thinks must be tapped. “Marine biology is a big opportunity area besides the treasure trove of traditional plants in Himalayas. We need to rework on Biodiversity Act and I am hopeful it will happen soon. The process is on.”
Sharing his perspective, Mr Ramesh Abhishek, Secretary, Department of Industrial Policy and Promotion (DIPP) said, “DBT must give us recommendations on the life cycle of a startup in biotech space. We are ready to amend the definition. Turnover is not major criteria. Exit period is only 90 days and insolvency clause has been amended.” Mr Abhishek added further that the ‘Funds of Funds’ is a major initiative with 10k crore worth funding to research projects by 2025. “1200k crore is being put this year. This sector is going to create a huge workforce. We surely value this industry,” he said.
The former Secretary of DBT, Dr M K Bhan feels that reinventing of the good institutes is important. “So, we must channelize all the efforts towards a dedicated goal. Redesigning, measurement and assessment should be done perodically. We need deep innovation system and design architecture, he said adding, “Small tributaries make Ganges. Was impressed with 100 drug discovery projects funded by the government.”

Boosting healthcare product development

The enormous scope of product need for meeting vast healthcare requirements in India has been one of the primary reason for foreign companies to explore Indian market. So, if an indigenous effort is made to meet unmet needs, it can be the major contributor for boosting our bioeconomy.
“The biggest market in Indian healthcare is government that is responsible for delivery of public health,” says Dr Soumya Swaminathan, Director general, Indian Council for Medical Research (ICMR). “There are many innovative products that require benchmarking at the well-equipped laboratories. Need pathways for such products. DBT-ICMR worked on a molecular diagnostic product for TB. There is another example of highly focused targeted therapy for muscular dystrophy. Therapy being tested in one year. We had successful India-Africa Summit last year and let me inform that lot of our technologies received orders from African nations especially Ghana.”
Dr Swaminathan also stressed on the need to create new public trials capacity (phase I, II, III and IV trials). She elaborated: “Most of the companies go abroad. Need to change that. Ethics being revised currently, the stemcell guidelines shall be soon out too. Working with NICE UK to develop capacities.”

Immediate Target Areas:

  • Food technology & agriculture crop products

  • Medical technology, diagnostics & vaccines

  • Biotherapeutics & biosimilars

  • Industrial enzymes

  • Phytopharma based biomedicines

“We never exploited the potential of products e are sitting on. We are strong in biopharma except API. Yet we have been unsuccessful in making it bigger, mentioned,” Dr Jitendar Sharma, CEO, Andhra Med Tech Zone who added, “The idea of ‘Healthcare ATMs’ where the common man could get his health-related solutions, is an innovative one. We require the MedTech Assessment Board that would look at the tariff duties, obsolete rules and set up a cell to suggest unmet needs and need of relevant medical technologies.”

Technological push for agriculture

Agriculture can be the big growth driver for Indian economy provided we can produce more crops from lesser area. Innovative indigenous economical solutions developed by our own startups can help in doing that in a much faster way than we can think of. The utilization of existing networks of Indian Council for Agricultural Research (ICAR) is the easiest way to reach out to farmers and connect them with technology or solution providers. Dr Trilochan Mohapatra, Director General, ICAR is of the opinion that despite availability of the huge genetic resources including animal, plant, fish genetic ones., we haven’t really understood the worth of all the data. “India must be able to make use of this genetic resources. For example, the harvesting of Artemisinin in tobacco plant (chloroplast) is a unique way of best solution for malaria but the commercial advantage has not been really made in India. Need to focus on unmet needs.”
Dr Mohapatra expressed his dissatisfaction over the way India has been overtly relying only on imported technologies. “Bt cotton is being talked about as success but it is a burrowed technology. We must promote indigenous technologies that suit our needs. If India has to become a biotech hub, India has to utilize technologies such as CRISPR. Also, the IT based solutions in agriculture must be fast utilized.”

Being realistic suits us best!

The Minister of State for Science and Technology, Mr Y S Chowdary, appreciates the way policymaking has improved over the period of years. He conceded at the BIRAC forum that the policymaking wouldn’t have been easy for those sitting at the helm of government agencies earlier. He appreciated the way Dr Renu Swarup has driven the BIRAC and her extraordinary delivery of projects. “The cooperation and coordination are always better than confrontation. It must have been difficult for even former bureaucrats to work under difficult circumstances when the sector wasn’t of much importance to higher ups in government,” the minister said pointing towards Dr M K Bhan who he said must have faced hurdles in establishing the bio-clusters. “We have to improve and the growth has to be horizontal with proper channelization of funds,” added the Minister.
So, the realism is finally defining the way we are gearing up to achieve our target. Being confident, innovative and yet realistic is the need of the day. The areas where we need the maximum solutions include agriculture and healthcare. Experts agree that the potential of ‘Clustered Regularly Interspaced Short Palindromic Repeats’ technology or CRISPR must be explored to revolutionize research and that the strength of IT based system too need to be built upon.
Indians are always known for two things: optimistically wait for things to settle down and the survival instinct despite heavy odds. So, this is what the case with the Indian bioscience sector is! If one must sum up the deliberations on achieving our target, it would be to leverage existing strengths, identify unmet needs, reinvent half developed products and stay focused on long-term goals. The way India has shown its strength in vaccines where the product development took decades yet perseverance was never lost, the day isn’t far for us to be leaders in other areas too. Let the optimism be our driving force for the bio-revolution 2.0!