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Indian pharma industry is strategically placed to cater to the COVID-19 crisis

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Abhinav Bhatia, Enterprise Ireland’s recently appointed Director for India and South Asian regions highlights the benefits and advantages of fostering better synergies between Ireland and India, especially in pharma and healthcare. He also opines that India can benefit from Irish partnerships in R&D, education/training and innovative technology to help to build a stronger infrastructure to support India’s vision to be more self-reliant., in an interview with Lakshmipriya Nair

How important is the Indian market for Enterprise Ireland?

India is classified as a ‘high growth market’ by Enterprise Ireland, while the majority of the current exports of Irish Life Sciences’ companies are to the EU & America, India has strong potential for growth and is an important market for several Irish enterprises.

What is different about India in terms of both, opportunities and challenges? What makes it an attractive investment destination for Irish firms?

In Ireland, the medical device sector is thriving and is now the second-largest exporter of medical technology in Europe. Four out of five of the stents used worldwide are produced in Ireland. Half of the ventilators used in acute hospitals worldwide are produced here, as are a third of the world’s contact lenses. More than 30 million people with diabetes use injectable devices made in Ireland.

India imports nearly 80 per cent of its medical devices and this offers a unique opportunity for leading med-tech companies globally. India’s expanding affluent and middle-class patient population increasingly demand improved healthcare services, to which Irish companies have responded by providing upgraded healthcare infrastructure, high-value medical diagnostic devices, and newer medical technologies. Also, the thriving medical tourism sector in India added to growing expenditure on medical and surgical equipment, which is also opening up newer opportunities for Irish companies.  India has a high reliance on foreign-made technologically advanced devices such as cancer diagnostics, medical imaging, ultrasonic scans, and PCR technologies for speciality and super-speciality hospital facilities, and Ireland has strong capabilities in these areas.

Like many developing markets, India also poses some challenges for Enterprise Ireland’s client companies. The medical device market is fragmented with no centralised procurement process in private/public hospitals, making it difficult to navigate the market.

What are the strengths, benefits that Irish firms can bring into India’s healthcare and pharma sectors?  And, what can Ireland gain from India’s skills, capabilities, and experience?

Ireland is a world-leading centre of excellence for the manufacturing of pharma and fine chemical products. The Irish pharma sector, which comprises pharma, fine and speciality chemicals, as well as biotech companies, is one of the world’s largest exporters of pharma. Nine out of the world’s top 10 pharma companies have substantial operations in Ireland, the country has a robust infrastructure in R&D with globally leading clusters and education/training facilities.

Indian medical device and pharma sectors witnessed a disruption in the supply chain due to the COVID-19 crisis, particularly due to temporary suspension of raw materials and Class 1 medical devices from China. Currently, the Indian government is strongly focusing on building India’s capability in the healthcare, pharma and bulk chemicals sector to reduce import dependency. India can benefit from Irish partnerships in R&D, education/training and innovative technology to help to build a stronger infrastructure to support India’s vision to be more self-reliant.

Irish companies have a lot to gain by engaging with the Indian pharma industry which is strategically placed to cater to the COVID-19 crisis. India has considerable manufacturing expertise; Indian companies are among the world leaders in the production of generics and vaccines. As both of these areas become more important, Indian producers are likely to take a large role on the world stage – and potentially partner with global pharma companies. India now produces more than 20 per cent of the world’s generics. Vaccines are another prominent area of growth. India is one of the largest vaccine producers in the world and is estimated to produce around 70 per cent of the global vaccine and exports to about 150 countries.

Enterprise Ireland has appointed an Indian for the first time as the Director for India and South Asian regions. How will your experience and understanding of the Indian market help you make decisions and chart strategies?

Before joining Enterprise Ireland, I have worked with several foreign governments, corporates, and non-profits. As the Director for India & South Asia, my main focus will be to enhance trade relations between India and Ireland by providing market intelligence, strategic advice, access to business opportunity and funding to Irish companies looking to do business in India. There is still a lot of apprehension among Irish companies when they look at India as a market or manufacturing base. We will be creating programmes and soft landing infrastructure for Irish companies to learn about India, how business is done here, who to work with, and the regions they should focus on.

As you know, Enterprise Ireland is among the largest venture capital firms in Europe making nearly 200 investments annually, I would also be keen to develop partnerships with the innovation ecosystem in India so that startups from both the countries can benefit.

In the life sciences and health sector, we have strong relationships with many leading Indian companies and several of them have also visited Ireland. We would also be supporting companies from Ireland to develop a base in India which help them in getting better access to the market. There are already several Irish healthcare companies like Aerogen, Trulife, Novearus, etc. who already have a strong base and/or partnerships in India and I hope to have more such companies active in India.

What are your short term and long term goals where India is concerned?

COVID-19 has caused a lot of disruptions in the ongoing business activity and in the short term, we will be focusing on supporting Irish companies who are already active in the market to help them sustain and preserve their existing business. We would also work closely with Irish companies who have solutions to tackle the current pandemic, for example, companies like Novearus have recently launched a portable air disinfection device which has shown effective results at reducing MS2 Bacteriophage, a surrogate for SARS-CoV-2 (COVID-19), by 99.99 per cent in 15 minutes. Another example would be Aerogen their high-performance aerosol drug delivery technology is providing effective treatment of respiratory illness and the company is actively catering to COVID19 hospitals across India.

There are about 100 Irish companies active in India and my aim remains in the longer term is to grow that number and further strengthen the relationship between Ireland and India.

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