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‘I expect a number of IPOs in India and capital inflow for novel ideas’

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The 15th edition of Bangalore INDIA BIO 2015 will focus on showcasing to the world the strides taken by Indian companies in the biotechnology segment. Dr P M Murali, President, ABLE in an interview with Usha Sharma talks about the upcoming event

Brief us about the 15th edition of Bangalore INDIA BIO 2015. The theme for this year’s event is ‘Crystalising India’ s Biotech Future.’ Elaborate more on this.

Dr P M Murali

Indian companies have been practising biotechnology for a number of years now. However, several factors are now favouring an accelerated growth. The positive Initial Public Offering (IPO’s) last year in the US and a single biotech company raising the highest money from market. Costs are dramatically going down in sequencing. Consortiums are working together to decode and understand the mechanisms and workings of living systems. The younger generation, keen to work in the fusion area of biology and electronics, are paving way to diagnostic and wearable devices. All these things auger very well and Bengaluru is the hub that is emerging for new and innovative companies. This year’s event focuses on showcasing to the world the strides taken by Indian companies in the biotechnology segment. Also, mature companies are slowly consolidating on the gains of their research over the years. I expect a number of IPOs in India and also a lot of capital inflow for novel ideas.

The Indian biotech industry is still at a nascent stage. What should be done to boost its growth? What support do you expect from the government?

ABLE has prepared a road map and has time and again mentioned that an investment of $4-5 billion year-on-year for the next fours years with enabling environment will catapult this industry to a size of about $100 billion in the next few years. We had the stars, aligned very well for us a decade ago which we did not capitalise on due to ambiguous regulatory policies and knee jerk reactions. Hope the lessons learnt from the past will now be used to accelerate growth in the health and agriculture sector.

How many biotech companies are in India and what percentage of growth has been registered in the last three to four years?

Biotech has been growing at about 15 per cent but certainly it slowed down in the past few years which has led to a sense of utter disbelief on why India failed to recognise its potential. I think there are over 400 pure biotech companies in India and a number of companies using biotech tools. We are looking forward to see biotech sector growth at over 25 per cent year-on-year from now on.

There are a handful of large biotech companies in India and Asia against many small and mid-sized biotech companies. How can these small and mid-sized companies be associated with the larger firms?

Globally, smaller biotech companies feed into the pipeline of large biotech companies. The other thing that happens is smaller companies develop lab scale technologies and platforms which are then effectively translated and scaled up by companies. One difference is in India; translation from academics is still not geared up and I hope this grows.

It has been observed that Indian biotech companies are shifting/ diversifying their interests to other segments like agri-biotech or bio-fuel. What are the key reasons for it?

I don’t think this is a shift. These are very important segments and some companies see opportunities here.

What strategies has ABLE chalked out to attract foreign investments in the Indian biotech sector?

ABLE is now present at most key international events. ABLE also hosts a number of foreign delegations. A combination of several of these information dissemination strategies help in overseas companies sensing the changed atmosphere and exploring ways to invest in India. ABLE also is the key inter-phase between the biotech industry and the various governmental departments. A lot of valuable discussions and white papers are generated every year to set the course of this industry. In addition to this, ABLE plays a vital role along with progressive state governments like Karnataka, Gujarat, Uttar Pradesh etc. ABLE is also part of the ‘Make in India’ strategic planning for this sector.

This year’s event has a special focus on agri-biotech, renewable energy and environment sustainability. Why is this so?

A number of statistics have been released on what population and environmental challenges the human race is going to face in the next 20-50 years. Technology is going to play a very key role in shaping our destiny. Biotech is thus going to be extensively used in agri and renewable energy segments. Both segments are going to hold the key to the future. Imagine plants that are going to use less water, less pesticides etc. and also exploiting marine forms of renewable energy forms. India has everything that is needed to make it a power house. If the enablers are in place, we will race ahead.

What are your expectations from the Union Budget 2014-15? Will the industry get some special focus this year?

Rationalising taxes, offering appropriate to help start-ups to flourish and announcing suitable investment in all the enabling environment like regulation, implementation, IP, power, water pollution etc. FSSAI. Biodiversity organisations require adequate investment to have more manpower to assist industries. Healthcare, agriculture and energy are the major pillars of the country and biotech is the key enabler for these sectors to grow. So the government should take a long-erm view and look at sustained investments over five years. Adhoc or piecemeal sops will not be of much help. The government has to think in 10 year cycles for this sector.

What message would you like to give for the success of Bangalore India Bio 2015?

India is once again in the lime light due to the efforts of Prime Minister Modi. His dynamism should be translated into action by the bureaucracy. The industry will automatically follow on the positive trends. Bangalore Bio will strive to show case the changed trends in India and reverse the adversities which lead to new initiatives leaving India. Also proactive states like Karnataka will take the lead in conveying the message globally that they will welcome industries and projects laying out the red carpet and cutting the red rape that India has thus far been famous for.

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