The 2008 financial quake that has devastated economies the world over, has at its epicentre, a number of underlying factors that pose a serious threat to the global economy. Apart from unregulated credit flows and uncontrolled oil pricing, rising food prices, unaffordable healthcare and climate change pose serious seismic challenges for economic stability.
Biotechnology provides several sustainable solutions to counter these challenges: biofuels as viable alternatives to petroleum, vaccines, stem cells and other biotech options to address unmet medical needs, GM crops to boost food & agricultural production and enzyme technologies that reduce the industrial carbon footprint are all key to the global agenda. India has a unique opportunity to play a key role in this emerging landscape by providing an affordable innovation platform for developing and commercialising many and even perhaps, all of these opportunities.
The recent Biotechnology Strategy Document released by the Department of Biotechnology enunciates a well thought-out proposal for investing across all sections of the biotech sector in order to strive for global leadership. Central to this endeavour is the need to focus on India’s talent base in order to leverage specialised skills, innovation-led research and unleashing entrepreneurial opportunities for job creation.
The risk-averse investment ethos that is prevalent today will make it increasingly difficult for the global biotech industry to grow, let alone survive. This lack of risk appetite is shared by International Regulators like USFDA and EMEA, which is reflected by the declining number of new drug approvals each year. This is significantly impacting risk capital as well as making drug development more expensive.
India Inc. needs to convert this diminishing trend into an increasing growth opportunity by leveraging our cost and talent base in a value added manner. The Biotechnology Strategy document is well designed to do so through innovative incentives and funding models. NMITLI (the New Millennium Indian Technology Leadership Initiative), SBIRI (Small Business Innovation Research Initiative), BIRAP (Biotechnology Industry Research Assistance Programme) are unique initiatives spearheaded by the Department of Biotechnology and the CSIR to propel the biotech sector to the next level.
India’s biotechnology sector is well positioned to generate revenues of $5 billion by 2010 and creating one million skilled jobs over the next five years through products and services. This can propel India into a significant position in the global biotech sweepstakes.
Not surprisingly, there is an emerging group of believers in India’s biotech capabilities, from leading venture capitalist Vinod Khosla to globally renowned biotech personalities like William Haseltine, founder-CEO of Human Genome Sciences. Khosla, for one, thinks it is time for India to play a lead role in biotech and nanotechnology by exploiting its vast resources and talent pool. “India can emerge as a front-runner in these next-generation technologies since a good beginning has been made.” Haseltine was on record to say that “India is in the process of enormous change and the biotechnology industry here offers immense opportunities for domestic as well as overseas firms in healthcare & biofuels.”
Such positive endorsements emanate from the fact that several facets of India’s biotech sector are attaining global visibility. India’s vaccine producers viz. Serum Institute, Bharat Biotech, Shantha Biotech, Panacea Biotech, Wockhardt etc. collectively command a global leadership position which has been well recognised by international organisations like WHO, The Gates Foundation and others.
Biogenerics, likewise, is another area where Indian companies are rapidly gaining a global vantage position. Biocon and Wockhardt, between them, can address Asia’s insulin requirements. In agri-biotech, India has the potential to be a leading supplier of GM seeds to the world. India’s chemical engineering skills offer a real potential to be world leaders in bio-processing.
Research services which encompass both drug development companies as well as CROs offering Clinical Trial services are also well poised to take advantage of trends in global resourcing and well-placed to deliver a business size of $1 billion by 2012. The opportunities are endless.
The success of building global leadership is going to depend on the ability of Indian biotech to apply its people resource in a knowledge intensive manner that leads to the commercialisation of innovation-led research programmes across all segments of biotechnology. A strong patenting regime, regulatory reforms that permit Phase I Clinical Trials and pragmatic fiscal support to R&D will enable India to realise its global aspirations as a bio-powerhouse.