About Author: Dr Renu Swarup is the former Secretary, Department of Biotechnology (DBT), Ministry of Science and Technology and former Chairperson, Biotechnology Industry Research Assistance Council (BIRAC). With a career spanning over three decades, Dr Swarup has actively contributed in the formulation of India’s biotechnology vision and strategy. A PhD in Genetics and Plant Breeding, Dr Swarup completed her Post Doctoral at The John Innes Centre, Norwich UK, and returned to India to take up the assignment of a Science Manager at DBT in 1989. She has been a member of many prestigious task forces and national committees.
For more than four decades the country has focused its efforts on building a strong biotechnology foundation with competence and capacity for cutting edge research and affordable product development .With the establishment of a National Biotechnology Development Board in 1982 and a separate Department of Biotechnology, in the Ministry of Science & Technology by Govt of India in 1986, a special impetus was given to this sunrise sector and concerted efforts were made to have a strong bioeconomy led sustainable growth. BIRAC, a separate organization under the Department of Biotechnology, set up in 2012 created an enabling ecosystem to nurture startups, connect industry and academia and promote innovation for affordable and accessible product and technology development.
The last decade and especially the last two years of the pandemic have seen the biotechnology sector grow steadily. With the onset of the Pandemic in early 2020, the world focused its attention on the Scientists and researchers for finding science-based solutions to fight this war. The focus was on biotech to find affordable solutions for understanding and tackling the virus. From Genome sequencing to diagnostics to vaccines and antivirals, biotechnology has been the key sector which efficiently delivered new technologies and products to address the key challenges of COVID.
Gaining strength steadily
The biotech sector has seen an unprecedented growth of over CGAR 14% in this challenging pandemic times and reached $80.12 billion by end of 2021-22, nearly 49% of this was the biopharma share with COVID related economy contributing approx 20%. The Industry is now well positioned to achieve the projected value of $150 billion by 2025. The share of Bioeconomy in the national GDP too has been rising in the last few years and now stands at 2.7% against 2.2 % in 2019. Over the last 8-10 years the number of start ups has exponentially risen from less than 500 in 2012 to over 5500 now. There were nearly 1128 new start ups established and a R&D investment of US $1 billion by the biotech Industry in 2021. It is this growth trajectory, which gives us the confidence that with this sustained growth and the robust enabling ecosystem, India is in a position to achieve $300 billion by 2030.
“The last decade and specially the last two years of the pandemic have seen the biotechnology sector grow steadily.”
India’s Science & Technology based response to the pandemic has been phenomenal and has given our country an elated level of confidence to face future challenges. The successful S&T tools and technologies developed by the scientists in the country to fight COVID, have made the country not only self-reliant but also in a position to respond to the global needs. The successful Diagnostic story is an example of how in less than 60 days, the country moved from being fully import dependent to having indigenous capacities of over 10 lakh tests per day. Today we have the required competence and capacity to use new cutting-edge technologies to develop rapid, sensitive and specific diagnostics for other major diseases.
The country also saw one of its largest vaccine development programmes – Mission COVID Suraksha — developing the largest portfolio of vaccine candidates on different platform technologies – inactivated virus, mRNA, DNA, protein subunit, nasal vaccine and other new platform technologies. India, which was known to be the world’s Vaccine manufacturer, has now been globally recognized as a strength in vaccine development. This was made possible through a very strong industry academia collaboration engaging a network of laboratories involving public and private sector and startups. An enabling robust ecosystem was built which provided access to clinical samples, validation assay panels, manufacturing capacity and market access. The country very quickly built its largest network of over 50 clinical trial sites, half a dozen animal facilities with challenge models for preclinical testing, more than half a dozen assay validation facilities with international recognition and 10 biorepositories of virus and clinical samples. Both backward and forward linkages were ensured to make the ecosystem ready for development and supply of indigenous raw material and large scale product manufacture. This ecosystem can now be used for further vaccine developmental research. This knowledge, experience and capacity is critical to accelerate the development of vaccines for priority diseases like Pan Coronavirus, TB, HIV, Malaria, Chikungunya, Zika and many others.
Innovation is the best strategy
For a successful Scientific Ecosystem to deliver, there are three important pillars — Capacity, Cutting edge technologies and Collaboration. The country has seen a special focus on all these three. We have created a robust research, innovation and translation ecosystem with our network of Laboratories, Translational clusters, Incubators, state of art shared infrastructure across the product development value chain. This ecosystem was put to test during the pandemic with high levels of success. Many other priorities also need urgent science-based solutions, which this strong ecosystem is now ready to deliver.
“We need out of box thinking to bring in a new culture of research & new models of research collaboration.”