Indian biotechnology on a growth trajectory

Focus on infrastructure, skill development and research capabilities is taking India’s biotech sector to new highs even as the country has become a popular destination for bio-services

December 22, 2018

Government of India has focused on boosting the country's biotechnology sector, which is divided into five segments - bio-pharma, bio-services, bio-agri, bio-industrial and bioinformatics

As of December 2018, India’s Department of Biotechnology has filed 78 patents with 13 already granted, developed 27 products and technologies, 9 of which have commercial applications

15 bio-incubators have been set up across India by the Biotechnology Industry Research Assistance Council (BIRAC) with high-end instrumentation to support around 199 startup entities

Ties have been established with a number of countries and international agencies with a view to furthering collaborative research and development as well as skill development in the field

Riding on the back of strong research capabilities and a supportive knowledge ecosystem within the country, India’s biotech sector is on a definitive growth trajectory. The country now ranks among the top 12 biotech destinations globally and is the third within the Asia Pacific region. Expected to grow at a Compound Annual Growth Rate (CAGR) of 30.46 per cent, according to official figures, India’s biotech sector is, in the view of many industry experts, a prime avenue for investment, estimated to fetch handsome returns over the coming years. The sector, which today holds three per cent share of the global industry, is poised to hit a valuation of US$100 billion by 2025.

As of December 2018, India’s Department of Biotechnology (DBT) within India’s Ministry of Science and Technology, has filed for 78 patents with 13 already granted, developed 27 products and technologies, 9 of which have commercial applications, and has published 831 articles, contributing significantly to the world’s knowledge of this important field. India has progressed towards achieving new heights in biotech research, helping sculpt biotechnology into a precise tool that is bound to be invaluable not just in future times, but in the present as well.

Impressed by India’s strong generic biotechnology potential, many global companies have partnered with India so far. The Telangana state government’s flagship biotech event, BioAsia 2018, attracted investments exceeding US$507 million, while during the Vibrant Gujarat Global Summit in 2017, 54 MoUs worth US$736.1 million were signed by 37 companies. Additionally, Syngene International Ltd., which is the contract research services arm of Biocon Ltd., has come on board to set up a drug recovery and development center in Bengaluru – India’s startup capital – for Amgen Inc., a US-based biotechnology company.

Growth drivers

The Government of India has been focused on boosting the country’s biotechnology sector, which is divided into five major segments – bio-pharma, bio-services, bio-agri, bio-industrial and bioinformatics. Of this, bio-pharma accounts for the largest share of 62 per cent of total revenues. Bio-services, which currently contributes 18 per cent to the sector’s topline, is emerging as an area of potential high growth with the country becoming a popular destination for clinical trials, contract research and manufacturing activities.

Its initiatives towards this include the establishment of modern infrastructure that is up to global standards, in conjunction with its plans to train 2 million highly-skilled, industry-ready personnel by 2020. Schemes like the Biotech Industrial Training Programme (BTTP), run by Biotech Consortium India Limited and the Biotechnology Skill Enhancement Programme (BiSEP) clearly show India’s continuing commitment to realising its vision. The government has also set up bio-clusters, biotech parks and support incubators for entrepreneurs with promising startup ideas.

Identifying the acute need to expand the application of DNA-based forensic technologies, the government has pushed through the landmark ‘DNA Technology (use and application) Regulation Bill 2018’

Consider, for instance, the 15 bio-incubators set up across India by the country’s Biotechnology Industry Research Assistance Council (BIRAC), with 175,000 sq.ft. of space equipped with high-end instrumentation to support 199 startup entities. India now plans to set up an additional 35 bio-incubators before 2020. Even as early as 2016, BIRAC was supporting 346 companies and 509 projects, of which 115 were run collaboratively. Today, India has the second-highest number of United States Food & Drug Administration (USFDA) approved plants across the world and is the globe’s leading producer of Hepatitis B vaccine recombinant.

As the industry expands its footprint in bio-services, new investment opportunities are in the areas of drug discovery and clinical trials, medical devices manufacturing, biosimilars and secondary agriculture.

Policy push

The country has been up to speed on the legislative front, too. Identifying the acute need to expand the application of DNA-based forensic technologies, the government has pushed through the landmark ‘DNA Technology (use and application) Regulation Bill 2018’. Encouraging research and innovation in employing DNA technologies for forensic analysis in law-enforcement, this legislation will prove of immense value in emergency management situations, especially for victim-identification during mass-disasters and other major crises.

Alongside, initiatives have been taken to strengthen bilateral ties towards advancing and further strengthening the biotech sector. The most recent instance of this would be DBT’s ‘EU Horizon 2020’ funding programme, launched in November 2018. Through this initiative, DBT will co-fund high-potential Indian researchers, institutions and even enterprises for partnering with European partners towards jointly addressing global challenges in biotech.

Ties have also been established with a number of countries and international agencies with a view to furthering collaborative research in this field. BIRAC presently has nine flagship schemes, simultaneously managing seven programmes that are collaboratively funded with international partners including but not limited to the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, USAID, the Wellcome Trust and Nesta. BIRAC’s partnership with the UK-based innovation charity Nesta, for instance, is aimed at revolutionising global healthcare delivery by providing seed grants to Indian innovators for developing their ideas for the Longitude Prize, worth GBP10 million (around US$12.5 million), in the area of Antimicrobial Resistance.

In 2018, DBT signed a Programme of Co-operation (POC) with the Swedish Governmental Agency for Innovation Systems (Vinnova), to collaborate on biomaterials, health and life sciences including biomedical devices, startups, incubators, test beds and bio-clusters. Other countries like Korea, Japan and the Philippines were also among the international partners with whom deals were signed, for advancing innovation in biotechnology.