India’s MedTech industry: Unleashing the next wave of growth

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With COVID-19 spotlight on it, the medical devices industry is positioned to capitalize on near-term opportunities and thereby expand its horizons

By Rahul Koul

New Delhi: The actual potential of Indian medical technology sector came into focus during COVID 19 pandemic when there was an urgent need for sufficient medical supplies, rapid diagnostics, and surveillance. The companies came up with affordable yet quality diagnostic kits, PPE, and other medical device solutions within a record time, turning India into an exporting nation from an importing one.
Although there are many factors that restrict it growth, the industry is set to ride its next phase of growth on evolved policies, incentives, and digital interventions. With software devices that are electronically designed with advanced technology, a medical technology company could be more of a technology company than a medical company. On top of that, Artificial Intelligence, robotic technology, and other new-age technologies are set to push the sector’s boundaries.
In this backdrop, recently at the BioAsia 2021, the leading stalwarts of the Indian medical technology industry deliberated on the current position and future potential in the country.
In India, we are even allowing the electronic devices whose calibration is questionable, says Rajiv Nath, Managing Director, Hindustan Syringes & Medical Devices Ltd & Forum Coordinator, AiMeD who bats for robust regulations and not allowing India to be treated as an E-waste dumping site. “We must motivate manufacturers, similar to the countries like Denmark, Korea, and Japan which despite not having a huge homegrown market are globally competitive. We have a big domestic market, the best brainpower, and R&D facilities. We require custom duties, separate laws and infrastructure,” he suggests.
The quality of devices is paramount, says Bhargav Kotadia, Managing Director, SMT who feels that there is a need to look at all the sides, be it the research and development, manufacturing and policy environment. “The central and state governments are playing a good role and Ayushman Bharat-PMJAY scheme is doing good. Schemes like Production Linked Incentive will help in making the products affordable. As we look at the export markets and tap like developed markets like Japan and US, we need to develop the domestic market. The R&D and regulatory compliance are more expensive than manufacturing.”
The speed of innovation has accelerated during COVID-19, says Kotadia who highlights how the medtech companies made the development of ventilators possible within a short time. “Now a good ventilator can be developed in just 3 months. We were strong in consumables but we underestimated ourselves. The need for repackaging of such products imported from other countries would no longer be required.”
We have to put the patient at the center of any such decisions, Dr. Shravan Subramanyam, President & CEO, GE Healthcare India & South Asia says on the price control. “Can the price control make it affordable?” he asks, adding, “Cheaper, yes but does it make MNCs comfortable and excited about the Indian market? That’s debatable.” He mentions further, “There are many facets over access to products. Even if you provide a cheap product in market, you may not be able to make it accessible. Many of our products are cheaper than other countries. Having a steady market-based approach will help. Strengths and weaknesses have to be taken care of.  I don’t think there should be any price control. No value in that but there is a need for all stakeholders to come to the table to discuss and address the market-based economy.”
Stressing on the need for healthy competition, Madan R Krishnan, Vice President & Managing Director, Medtronic India points out why companies shouldn’t into crab mentality to pull down each other and rather work for holistic growth of the industry. “Question is price control is not aligned with market forces. Competition and trade margins have to be rationalized. The ecosystem has to be vaiable with a holistic approach otherwise attractiveness of the Indian market will come down. Realistic and not maverick sort of behavior which must be avoided.”
Sharing a completely opposite view, Suresh Vazirani, Chairman and Managing Director, Transasia Bio-Medicals Ltd, mentions, “The price control helps the industry to grow. We can’t avoid it as govt has to ensure the access for all. However, I agree that there has to be scientific way for this. 10% to 20% on R&D but we need to do more. The stereotype that Indians are only good at software has been broken and it is clear we are good with hardware too. We need to change our mindset. We need Development Linked Incentives scheme.”
The policy is evolving, says DCGI
Dr. S Eswara Reddy, Joint Drugs Controller, Central Drugs Standard Control Organization made it clear that until and unless the devices are affordable, there is no use of technologies. “Price control measures have helped patients. We are identifying more devices that are to be made available to masses. Not against the profiteering but we definitely intervene wherever we see high prices and margins.”
At the same time, Reddy agreed with the industry that Drug and Cosmetic Act still needs to address many issues regarding the quality of devices. “The devices are still considered as drugs. Globally it is regulated separately. The govt is well versed in the issue. In 2017, it came up with rules for drugs and devices but the Act governing them is the same. Therefore, in sync with the industry’s demand, the government is considering coming up with a separate bill for medical devices and that may become an Act.”
As per Jayesh Ranjan IAS, Principal Secretary, Industries & Commerce Dept., Government of Telangana, “Policymaking should be inclusive and government must understand the concerns. There is no harm in advocating the reasonable positions of industry. We need to aim big and not just manufacture for India but for the world. We must support the industry through backward integration, and quality.