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Bio Business Boom India Makes Major Presence In Biotechnology Industry

Updated: September 18, 2010 1:03 pm

Every year, 40 million people worldwide die prematurely from chronic and infectious diseases, including cancer, cardiovascular diseases, stroke, diabetes, Alzheimer’s and other deadly afflictions. The scenario in the developing world is much more pathetic with fatal diseases like HIV, tuberculosis, malaria and others. What importance does the biotechnology industry have in changing this sick, hungry and polluted planet?

                James C Greenwood, president and CEO, BIO, has mentioned the simple vision of the industry in BioInvest 2009, Mumbai, “we want to heal fuel and feed the world.”

                Surprisingly, within a very short time, India has made its major presence in the global biotech industry. India is ranked among the top 12 biotech destinations in the world and is the third biggest in Asia-Pacific in terms of the number of biotech companies (CII-KPMG report). More than 350 companies of India’s USD 2.5 billion industry developed the sector at an average 30 per cent annually for five consecutive years—and even 18 per cent last year against the background of the global financial crisis. That’s an impressive performance by any standards. The Indian biotech sector’s overall turnover in 2008-09 was USD 2.51 billion, as compared to USD 2.13 billion in 2007-08 and is expected to reach 5 million marks in 2010 (Report by CII and KPMG). Bio-pharma contributed USD 1.6 billion; bio-agri nearly USD 311.28 million, bio-industrial segment USD 99.19 million and bio-informatics grew 15 per cent to touch USD 45.65 million.

Key Drivers of India’s Growth

  • India is a key link in the global supply chain for the world’s major biopharmaceutical firms.
  • India has become the world’s largest maker of vaccines.
  • In bio-agriculture, India recently surpassed China as the largest producer of bt-cotton.
  • India has huge opportunities in the bio-fuels and bio-industrial sectors.
  • US and other western companies are interested to invest.
  • Many BIO member companies are actively seeking new or expanded partnerships with Indian firms.

Reasons for bio boom

The reasons for this bio boom are not unique. With a huge base of talented, skilled and cost competitive manpower, and a well-developed scientific infrastructure, India has become a leading global player in biotechnology. In the health sector, Indian firms are developing novel biotech treatments for cancer, diabetes, and other conditions. In agri-bio, India may soon see approval of the first bt-vegetable crop, the pest-resistant Bt brinjal. This will create new opportunities for India’s farmers and mark a major global milestone for safe and nutritious biotech crops. India is also innovating in bio-energy, with experiments using advanced biofuels to power trains and buses and with plans to meet more of India’s energy needs with bio-diesel derived from the jatropha bush.

                The global clinical research outsourcing market is projected to touch USD 23 billion by 2011, with consultancy firm KPMG estimating that India will corner 15 per cent of this in two years. The Stem Cell Global Foundation—a New Delhi-based organisation promoting stem cell research—estimates the business to be growing at a compounded annual growth of 15 per cent and cross USD 450 million next year. Moreover, India has joined an elite group of six countries which have successfully decoded the human genome indigenously. Biocon, Serum Institute of India, Panacea Biotec, Nicholas Piramal, Wockhadrt Limited are the names of the top ten biotech companies of India that have broken new ground and given new products and technologies to the world.

The top ten biotech companies of India

Powered by the growing competence in producing low cost innovative as well as generic drugs and vaccines, some of Indian biotech firms like Biocon, Serum Institute of India, Panacea Biotec, Nicholas Piramal, Wockhadrt Limited etc are not only growing fast to become global majors, but also promising to create substantial opportunities for the for the Indian economy. Presently, there are about 350 biotech companies in India, among which GlaxoSmithKline, Bharat Serum, Krebs Biochemicals and Industries Limited, Zydus Cadila, Indian Immunologicals are big names. Half of these companies are in the state of Karnataka. Bangaluru alone has about 135 firms, making the city a biotech hub of the country. The biotechnology space in India basically comprises of the bio-pharma, bio-agri, and bio-industrial firms.

The Biotechnology Regulatory Authority Bill

The debate on biosafety guidelines has come a full circle as it is argued by the researchers and the scholars that the Biotechnology Regulatory Authority Bill gags dissent and takes away the power of states without providing any safeguards to farmers and consumers. In India, there is no permanent secretariat to monitor the trials of the GMOs. Instead the regulations are implemented by various ad hoc committees. This fact is questionning on the safety issues of the Biotechnology Regulatory Authority Bill. Though our Environment and Forests Minister Jairam Ramesh addressed that the Biotechnology Regulatory Authority Bill has maintained the integrity of both the environmental assessment process and the public consultation process, controversies do not stop. The prime objective of setting up the Authority was to ensure a professional and independent regulator whose core concern would be the safety and efficacy of biotech use in agriculture and not commercialisation. The Bill, approved by the union cabinet in August 2010, and is expected to be introduced in the current Monsoon session of Parliament, ignores the basic premise for biotech regulation. Without the participation of the major stakeholders like farmers and public interest groups and the state government, the controversial bill can become a hindrance of the average 35 per cent annual growth of India’s one of the most promising sectors and can fail to meet the revenue target of USD 5 billion this year. And if the controversy will continue for the next few months, it will be tough for the sector to attain the USD 25 billion target by 2015, set by the Indian Government’s Department of Biotechnology.

Looking ahead

The government is enthusiastic about the shining future of the sector and it is planning to create a separate National Biotechnology Regulatory Authority. Various schemes have been offered by the Department of Biotechnology to support small and medium enterprises, to encourage private-public collaboration and to open new centres of excellence in biological science research. The central government and UNESCO, fully realising the need of training and education for generating interdisciplinary human resource relevant to biotechnology, took a joint decision to establish the Regional Centre for research, training and education in biotechnology under the auspices of UNESCO.

By Samarpita Roy from Kolkata

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