The past not turning out to be what one wanted, does not mean that the future can’t be better than one imagined.
India is one of the most competitive countries to thrive in, but it does have plenty of opportunities if one is passionate enough to explore and seize them.
The Past (A funding crunch and brain drain)
- Funding: A business without a funding source will flounder under the weight of its own debt. Funding is the fuel on which a business runs and the Indian biotech industry has always run out of it. Furthermore, government funding (or lack thereof) has been a crucial factor in the state of the Indian biotech industry, due to limited access to other sources (e.g. venture capitalists, due to the high risk of investment).
- Education: In the first phase (1984-85), 5 universities were selected for initiating M.Tech programmes in this multi-disciplinary area. Subsequently, in 1985-86 and 1986-87, the DBT had added 8 universities/institutions for teaching programmes in biotech.By 2002, the Department of Biotechnology (DBT) was supporting 20 courses in general biotechnology, 4 in agricultural biotechnology, and one each in medical and marine biotechnology, while diploma courses were offered in molecular and biochemical technology. (The Department of Biotechnology of IIT KGP was established in 1999 to run the UG program independently)
The government has realised that biotechnology is one way that India can deliver health, food security and provide new, clean sources of energy to its people.
With this history, I want to convey that Biotech in India is comparatively still very young!
Expected future – a biotech boom!
The Indian biotechnology industry is on the verge of entering a new era, where it can provide significant economic growth and development to the people of India and around the world. Currently, biopharmaceutical sector accounts for the largest share of the biotech industry at 64% in total revenues, followed by bio-services (18%), bio-agriculture (14%), bio-industrial (3%) and bioinformatics (1%).
- Funding: In 12th Five-Year Plan (2012 – 2017), the Indian government aims to spend US $3.7 billion on biotechnology compared to US $1.2 billion in the 11th Five-Year Plan (2007 – 2012) and US $0.3 billion in 10th Five-Year Plan. This investment is set to accelerate the pace of research, innovation and development to improve biotechnology in India and to build infrastructure to attract Foreign Direct Investment (FDI).
- Policy: With the government taking the lead, there has been a rise in investments from domestic and foreign players. 100% FDI is permitted for manufacturers of drugs and pharmaceuticals. The R&D sector has huge potential and many opportunities have been and are being created due to a number of foreign companies investing in this sector.
- Infrastructure Development: Biotechnology infrastructure is witnessing a shift from traditional generalised clusters to specialised infrastructure such as biotech or science parks. This concentration resources is a major reason for the rapid development of biotech in Boston and Cambridge (UK).
- Pharmaceuticals: India supplies 20 per cent of global generic medicines market exports in terms of volume, making the country the largest provider of generic medicines globally and this is expected to expand even further in coming years.
- Bioinformatics: With ~10 per cent of the global professional and skilled bioinformaticians, research into bioinformatics is poised to become one of the fastest emerging markets in India. Bioinformatics is estimated to rise at a growth rate of 34.92 per cent to US $2.7 billion between FY12–25.
- Clinical Trials: Cost effectiveness, competition, and increased confidence in India’s capabilities and skill-sets have propelled many global pharmaceutical companies to increase their clinical research investment in the nation.
- Bio-agriculture: In India, genetically modified (GM) crops are in cultivation on over 11.5 million hectares of land, the majority of which is Bt cotton. India has the potential to become a major producer of transgenic rice and several GM or engineered vegetables.
- International Collaborations:
- Joint proposals are being funded and MoUs are being signed with leading countries like Japan, UK, Denmark and France.
- In 2015, DBT announced the Indo-Australian Gold Fellowships to support researchers to undertake collaborative research project in Australia for 24 months.
- In 2015, the UK Medical Research Council (MRC) and the Government of India Department for Biotechnology (DBT) formed an alliance to fund three major global research centers.
- Encouraging students:
- DBT collectively sponsored around INR 50 lakhs (~US $75,000) to Indian teamsto participate in the International Genetically Engineered Machines (iGEM) 2016 competition, the world’s biggest genetic engineering competition.
- In collaboration with the Association of Biotechnology Led Enterprises, DBT also conducts a b-plan competition exclusively for students with prize money worth INR 15 lakhs (~US $22,500.)
With all this, what India really need is its young, bright minds to lead the future of biotech – young people who say, “The best way to predict the future is to create it.”
Many Indian scientists and researchers with huge industry and entrepreneurial experience are settled abroad. We need to work on innovative programs and incentives to attract them to return back home (or take on mentoring roles for young Indians). Such initiative will boost the market with valuable human resource to launch new companies or fill specific skills gaps in established industries.
Written by Yogesh Lakhotia
GapSummit Leader of Tomorrow 2016