US$ 300 billion industry by 2030: Time to move out of our comfort zone

For a successful scientific ecosystem to deliver, there are three important pillars — capacity, cutting edge technologies & collaboration, writes Dr Renu Swarup, Former Secretary, Department of Biotechnology

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During her close to 34 years of service, Dr Renu Swarup has spearheaded many initiatives, projects and programs on variety of topics at the DBT. She played a key role in getting BIRAC created and making it operational.
About Author: Dr Renu Swarup is the former Secretary, Department of Biotechnology (DBT), Ministry of Science and Technology and former Chairperson, Biotechnology Industry Research Assistance Council (BIRAC). With a career spanning over three decades, Dr Swarup has actively contributed in the formulation of India’s biotechnology vision and strategy. A PhD in Genetics and Plant Breeding, Dr Swarup completed her Post Doctoral at The John Innes Centre, Norwich UK, and returned to India to take up the assignment of a Science Manager at DBT in 1989. She has been a member of many prestigious task forces and national committees.

For more than four decades the country has focused its efforts on building a strong biotechnology foundation with competence and capacity for cutting edge research and affordable product development .With the establishment of a National Biotechnology Development Board in 1982 and a separate Department of Biotechnology, in the Ministry of Science & Technology by Govt of India in 1986, a special  impetus was given to this sunrise sector and concerted efforts were made to have a strong bioeconomy led sustainable growth. BIRAC, a separate organization under the Department of Biotechnology, set up in 2012 created an enabling ecosystem to nurture startups, connect industry and academia and promote innovation for affordable and accessible product and technology development.
The last decade and especially the last two years of the pandemic have seen the biotechnology sector grow steadily. With the onset of the Pandemic in early 2020, the world focused its attention on the Scientists and researchers for finding science-based solutions to fight this war. The focus was on biotech to find affordable solutions for understanding and tackling the virus. From Genome sequencing to diagnostics to vaccines and antivirals, biotechnology has been the key sector which efficiently delivered new technologies and products to address the key challenges of COVID.
Gaining strength steadily 
The biotech sector has seen an unprecedented growth of over CGAR 14% in this challenging pandemic times and reached  $80.12 billion by end of 2021-22, nearly 49% of this was the biopharma share with COVID related economy contributing approx 20%. The Industry is now well positioned to achieve the projected value of $150 billion by 2025. The share of Bioeconomy in the national GDP too has been rising  in the last few years and now stands at 2.7% against 2.2 % in 2019. Over the last 8-10 years the number of start ups has exponentially risen from less than 500 in 2012 to over 5500 now. There were nearly 1128 new start ups established and a R&D investment of US $1 billion by the biotech Industry in 2021. It is this growth trajectory, which gives us the confidence that with this sustained growth and the robust enabling ecosystem, India is in a position to achieve $300 billion by 2030.
“The last decade and specially the last two years of the pandemic have seen the biotechnology sector grow steadily.”
India’s Science & Technology based response to the pandemic has  been phenomenal and has given our country an elated level of confidence to face future challenges. The successful S&T tools and technologies developed by the scientists in the country to fight COVID, have made the country not only self-reliant but also in a position to respond to the global needs. The successful Diagnostic story is an example of how in less than 60 days, the country moved from being fully import dependent to having indigenous capacities of over 10 lakh tests per day. Today we have the required competence and capacity to use new cutting-edge technologies to develop rapid, sensitive and specific diagnostics for other major diseases.
The country also saw one of its largest vaccine development programmes – Mission COVID Suraksha — developing the largest portfolio of vaccine candidates on different platform technologies – inactivated virus, mRNA, DNA, protein subunit, nasal vaccine and other new platform technologies. India, which was known to be the world’s Vaccine manufacturer, has now been globally recognized as a strength in vaccine development. This was made possible through a very strong industry academia collaboration engaging a network of laboratories involving public and private sector and startups. An enabling robust ecosystem was built which provided access to clinical samples, validation assay panels, manufacturing capacity and market access. The country very quickly built its largest network of over 50 clinical trial sites, half a dozen animal facilities with challenge models for preclinical testing, more than half a dozen assay validation facilities with international recognition and 10 biorepositories of virus and clinical samples. Both backward and forward linkages were ensured to make  the ecosystem ready for development and supply of  indigenous raw material and large scale product  manufacture. This ecosystem can now be used for  further vaccine developmental research. This knowledge, experience and capacity is critical  to accelerate the development of vaccines for priority diseases like Pan Coronavirus, TB, HIV, Malaria, Chikungunya, Zika and many others.
Innovation is the best strategy
For a successful Scientific Ecosystem to deliver, there are three important pillars — Capacity, Cutting edge technologies and Collaboration. The country has seen a special focus on all these three. We have created a robust research, innovation and translation ecosystem with our network of Laboratories, Translational clusters, Incubators, state of art shared infrastructure across the product development value chain. This ecosystem was put to test during the pandemic with high levels of success. Many other priorities also need urgent science-based solutions, which this strong ecosystem is now ready to deliver.
“We need out of box thinking to bring in a new culture of research & new models of research collaboration.”
Now that we have been able to create this vibrancy and also build a trust factor between academia, industry and starups it is imperative that we focus on new emerging disruptive technologies. Some of the priority areas of Cell and regenerative medicine, Genomics, AI and Big data, precision medicine and new drug development and also new and emerging technologies in the agricultural, industrial and clean energy sectors need special attention. Our biggest challenge today is the seamless flow of knowledge from academic labs to industries, especially start-ups. Our effort should be to unshackle academia from its inhibitions and industry from its apprehensions to collaborate. It cannot be a slow step by step process; it has to be an immediate transformation so that all the excellent research leads developed in our laboratories can move into the translational pipeline for product development and market launch.
It is imperative that we encourage our growing pipeline of innovators to focus on high levels of innovative technologies and products and not just low hanging products. If we have to make a global mark, we need to identify niche areas and balance the low value, high volume products with high value products. Our appetite for taking risk must increase with greater thrust on high investment for high-risk research. Our university research ecosystem has to move in the direction of high-risk application oriented basic discovery research which brings a new understanding of the problems to provide solutions which impact. The focus has to shift from routine research to high-end cutting-edge discovery research, ensuring that specific industry need based priorities are taken into account.
Bright Outlook
Building credible innovation pipelines which successfully deliver products which reach the market and have great potential to respond to global challenges, clearly infuses confidence in investors. The Government plays an important role in derisking high risk innovations by being an early funder, reposing both confidence and trust in the innovation and our innovators. This helps kick start the entrepreneurial journey of the startups and as early leads show success and early milestones are achieved, more players feel confident to join .We have seen many of our startups supported by the Government, attract early stage and VC funds. The valuation of just our 100 top startups is nearly $1billion today. The FDI in biotech during 2021 touched $830 million, a 6% increase over 2020. With the right innovation ecosystem, a credible and robust regulatory pathway and the right market penetration policies — it should not be difficult to make India an investment hub.
We need to have out of box thinking to bring in a new culture of research and new models of research collaboration. New areas of emerging technologies and new investment partnership models are the way forward. Let us move out of our comfort zone. The country has responded to the call of Atmanirbhar Bharat- We have an ecosystem ready for a self-reliant India, ready to develop affordable Innovations for India and the world — We are now Future Ready, the target of $300b is now in sight.

**This article was first published in the January 2023 edition of the BioVoice eMagazine. The views expressed by the author are her own.