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Biopharma: India's New Sunrise Sector

India requires a dual focus on entrepreneurship and innovation, as well as removing the barriers to new investment and improving the overall climate for business

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India is frequently referred to as the pharmacy to the world. While our generics industry has indeed made a name for itself globally, we are yet to see any priority being accorded to new drug discovery. Dr Frank Lichtenberg of the Columbia University and the National Bureau of Economic Research studied 30 developing and high income countries, for a decade beginning in 2000, to establish clearly that pharmaceutical innovation serves to enhance longevity, increase productivity and reduce medical expenditure. It is time to prioritize research and move from 'Make in India' to 'Innovate in India'.

It has been observed that countries with strong access to medicines have a strong IP regime and vice-versa. Intellectual property rights are granted to protect and incentivize innovation.

The Indian government now needs to allocate budget to increase healthcare funding and incentivize innovation. We need regulations that help create the competitive policy eco-system necessary to attract domestic and foreign investment and facilitate the growth of a robust and innovative biopharmaceutical sector in India.

India has been a traditional laggard in innovation and new product development. However, of late we have seen some initiatives that have helped us move from 81 to 66 in the ranking of the Global Innovation Index 2016 - 'Winning with Global Innovation'. India now ranks at the top, among South Asian countries in the Global Innovation Index. Our innovation, particularly in the information technology, pharmaceutical and entertainment sectors is beginning to be adopted and is finding a place in the commercial space.

The government has already demonstrated a willingness to boost India's ranking. For India to move further up the innovation index, it needs to invest in an IP-led innovation model that offers transparency and predictability for each of these sectors to continue to confidently invest and innovate in India. A strong IP framework will deliver tremendous benefit to India, including increased investment in clinical research, high-paying and skilled jobs, and transfer of medical knowledge and early access to new medicines.

India requires a dual focus on entrepreneurship and innovation, as well as removing the barriers to new investment and improving the overall climate for business. Further, more academic researchers should be encouraged to become entrepreneurs, and take their creative ideas from the laboratories to the factory floor. This will help create new, high-paying jobs for many others.

India has the potential to climb the value chain to become a global hub for biopharmaceutical innovation and support greater levels of clinical research and drug development. The domestic innovative pharmaceutical industry in India has not yet evolved to the desired level and is yet to realize its potential. While the Indian diaspora of scientists, engineers, doctors, and clinicians make significant contributions to global health from outside India, India's share of the $1.62 trillion in global R&D spending remains modest compared to other countries.

Much has been said about how simplifying the climate for clinical trials could generate at least $500 million of new business, apart from spurring critical and indigenous research in local diseases. In 'Accelerating Growth: Forging India's Bioeconomy', James C. Greenwood and Dr P.M. Murali, estimate that $4 billion to $5 billion in investment is needed on an annual basis, for the next four years, to realize the industry's goal for growth. The report also states that an equal if not greater emphasis should be placed on developing new products for the global marketplace. By doing so, companies in India will be in a position to attract new investment capital and generate substantial amounts of new revenue and will achieve the goal of creating a $100 billion industry.

The success of programs like 'Make in India' and 'Skill India' depends upon the national ability to champion manufacturing, production, research & development and innovation. Despite high aspirations for growing its biopharmaceutical and biotech sectors, India still has a long way to go to reach its potential for investment.

Ensuring the protection of intellectual property rights is a prerequisite for innovation, building trust and protecting companies against the threat of having their R&D efforts plagiarized and their investments wasted.

Patents are sometimes perceived as barriers to healthcare access in developing nations, but this is not the case. The real hurdles to healthcare and access are poor health infrastructure and inadequate delivery systems. The link between patents and access to medicines in India needs to be better understood.

As the demand for healthcare increases, the pressure on our government to provide universal healthcare will require easily available quality drugs. Each country ought to be working towards providing meaningful incentives for bio pharmaceutical research, to encourage greater investment in finding new cures. At the same time, we need to seek holistic and integrated solutions: prioritizing healthcare and allocating higher budget; creating financing models that reduce out-of-pocket spend and increase ability to pay; replicating the best drug procurement systems in all our states.

Disclaimer: The views expressed in the article above are those of the authors' and do not necessarily represent or reflect the views of this publishing house. Unless otherwise noted, the author is writing in his/her personal capacity. They are not intended and should not be thought to represent official ideas, attitudes, or policies of any agency or institution.

Amir Ullah Khan

Dr Amir Ullah Khan is director of research at Aequitas Health Consulting. He is a development economist with a special interest in health and agriculture. He has directed the strategy and policy division at the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation in India. Amir also served as Director at the India Development Foundation and as Deputy Secretary General at the PHD Chamber of Commerce and Industry

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