Express Pharma

The emergence of india’s life science powerhouses: A deep dive

Vishal Goel, Managing Director, RX Propellant highlights that by fostering collaboration, nurturing talent, and addressing key challenges head-on, India is poised to emerge not just as a regional leader, but as a global powerhouse in the life sciences domain

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Over the last five decades, India’s life science industry has experienced remarkable growth and evolution. The implementation of the 1970 Patent act marked the beginning of a period of reverse engineering that enabled Indian pharma companies to venture into advanced markets with generic drugs in the 1990s. This growth – with 665 FDA-approved manufacturing facilities, India boasts the highest number outside the United States – has been propelled by the industry’s expertise in manufacturing and process development, and an abundant skilled talent pool. Simultaneously, in the 1990s, Indian vaccine manufacturers began supplying vaccines to developing nations. Currently, they contribute to 40 per cent of the World Health Organization (WHO) prequalified vaccine products. In recent years, the pandemic has ignited a transformation within the vaccine industry, becoming the central focus of global economies. India has not only manufactured ‘Covishield’ (Serum Institute of India, Pune) vaccines for the world but developed a successful indigenous Covid vaccine, ‘Covaxin’, propelling the country from a manufacturer to an ‘innovator’.

In the last twenty years, India has emerged as one of the top twelve biotechnology hubs worldwide, boasting a thriving ecosystem comprising over 2,500 players. In 2022 alone, it added 1391 biotech start-ups, taking the number up to 6,755 from 732 in 2015, advancing its entrepreneurial ambition further. With the introduction of 50+ innovative products in the life sciences and healthcare sector, India is witnessing a new wave of innovation. Thanks to a rich talent pool, entrepreneurial spirit, robust infrastructure, and growing knowledge ecosystems across the nation, the Indian life sciences industry is swiftly emerging as a powerhouse for innovation in several new biopharma subsectors – biologics/biosimilars, diagnostics, medical technology, nutraceuticals and cell, and gene therapies. Schemes like bulk-drug parks with a financial outlay of Rs 3000 crores to promote manufacturing of new API (Active Pharmaceutical Ingredient) and KSM (Key Starting Materials) to reduce India’s dependence on import of raw materials provide a significant boost. Biosimilars are poised to become the next frontier in Indian life sciences: With over 98 biosimilar drugs already launched in the domestic market by Indian firms, the true potential lies in the global arena.

India’s ascent in the life sciences industry is no accident but a result of a carefully cultivated ecosystem over decades that fosters innovation and collaboration. The significant contributors to this growth include:

Research and development excellence: Leading academic institutions, such as the Indian Institutes of Technology (IITs) and Indian Institutes of Science Education and Research (IISERs), serve as crucibles of innovation, nurturing bright minds in biotechnology, pharmaceuticals, and medical research. While Bengaluru is known for world-class institutions such as Indian Institute of Science (IISc), Hyderabad is home to 50+ national research institutions for research, manufacturing and innovation.1 Government initiatives promoting R&D investment, including tax incentives and funding schemes have empowered India’s scientific community. Stronger industry-academia partnerships and increased investment in research are critical for laying the foundations of innovation in the life sciences sector.

Thriving biotech hubs: India boasts a network of thriving biotech clusters, each fostering collaboration, innovation, and entrepreneurship, attracting global investment and talent. Cities like Bengaluru, Hyderabad, Mumbai Delhi NCR, Ahmedabad and Pune have emerged as key players. Hyderabad’s Genome Valley, for instance, stands as a testament to India’s biotech potential, housing over 200 life science companies and research institutions.2 This clustering effect facilitates knowledge exchange and catalyses the growth of ancillary services, from contract research organisations to venture capital firms.

Enabling regulatory environment: India’s regulatory framework, governed by agencies like the Central Drugs Standard Control Organization (CDSCO) and the Department of Biotechnology (DBT), has undergone significant reforms to streamline approval processes and ensure safety standards. Recent initiatives, such as the New Drugs and Clinical Trials Rules, 2019 demonstrate India’s commitment to fostering patient-centric approach and innovation while upholding rigorous regulatory oversight.

Global collaborations: Partnerships with multinational pharma companies not only provide access to capital and expertise but also facilitate technology transfer and market expansion. Similarly, collaborations with leading research institutions fuel innovation, driving breakthroughs in drug discovery, diagnostics, and therapeutic interventions.

Talent pipeline: India’s vast pool of skilled professionals, spanning scientists, researchers, clinicians, and engineers, forms the backbone of its industry. Initiatives like the Skill India Mission and National Biopharma Mission aim to bridge skill gaps, ensuring a steady supply of a skilled workforce equipped to tackle the sector’s evolving demands. To produce industry-ready talent, adopting the biotech finishing school model, as exemplified by Karnataka, is crucial. With 18 institutes offering one-year diploma courses, this approach proves instrumental in addressing educational disparities and aligning skills with industry needs.

Road to India’s Life Science Renaissance

India’s BioEconomy was valued at $137 billion in 2023, and estimates show that the market is likely to reach $150 billion by 2025 and $300 billion by 2030.3 As the global landscape continues to evolve, it is imperative for pharma and biotech companies to explore the untapped potential and ways to achieve it. The two areas that require immediate attention are:

Infrastructure development: From inadequate laboratory facilities to logistical challenges in clinical trials, addressing infrastructure bottlenecks is imperative to sustain long-term growth. Public-private partnerships (PPPs) and initiatives like the National Biopharma Mission offer avenues for infrastructure development, leveraging both governmental resources and private sector expertise.

Market access and affordability: Access to affordable healthcare remains a pressing issue in India, with millions still lacking basic medical services. Balancing innovation and affordability is a delicate tightrope walk for policymakers and industry stakeholders. Initiatives promoting generic drug manufacturing, such as the Jan Aushadhi Scheme, strive to make essential medicines accessible to all, while initiatives like Ayushman Bharat aim to expand healthcare coverage, creating a more inclusive healthcare ecosystem.

As India’s life science sector continues to ascend, the opportunities are boundless. From breakthrough therapies to cutting-edge diagnostics, the innovations emanating from India’s laboratories hold the promise of transforming global healthcare. By fostering collaboration, nurturing talent, and addressing key challenges head-on, India is poised to emerge not just as a regional leader, but as a global powerhouse in the life sciences domain. It is incumbent upon all stakeholders to seize this moment and collectively propel India towards a future where healthcare knows no bounds.