When the country plays host to two global conclaves focussed on bio-pharmaceuticals and life sciences, barely three months apart, it illustrates the opportunities up ahead for both seasoned players and fledgeling ventures.

While companies proceed full steam ahead on the biotech highway, there remains much ground to cover, say industry-watchers, in terms of early funding for start-ups or regulatory clarity for the large companies.

Biotech ventures are difficult to establish as there are inherent entry barriers — being capital intensive, needing wet labs, long gestation periods and the absence of early funding, says Jitendra Kumar, Managing Director, BIRAC (Biotechnology Industry Research Assistance Council). And yet, India has 6,755 biotech start-ups, including the 1,391 start-ups added in 2022, says Kumar. This reflects a conducive ecosystem, he says, citing the India BioEconomy Report 2023, that covers a swathe of products and services across bio-industrial, bio-pharma, bio-agri and bio-IT Research segments.

On track

India’s bio-economy at $137.2 billion (2022) reflects a healthy growth, says Kumar, adding that the country would get to the $150 billion mark “ahead of the projected 2025” timeline.

With a market size of $49.79 billion, bio-pharma accounted for the second largest chunk (36 per cent) of the bio-economy, after the bio-industrial segment (at $58.97 billion or 43 per cent). Also adding to the bio-pharma segment are Covid-linked products and services accounting for $7.66 billion (6 per cent).

The IBER report was put together by BIRAC, with the Association of Biotechnology Led Enterprises (ABLE) and was unveiled at the Global Bio-India 2023 conclave, organised by the Department of Biotechnology and its public sector unit BIRAC, in December 2023.

February 2024 will witness BioAsia, an annual event from the Telangana government.

Some industry players are not comfortable with the IBER’s expanded definition of biotech products, but there is consensus that the segment is attracting much domestic and international interest.

Balanced growth

Pushing for balanced growth, Kumar says, be it the North-East, coastal regions, the Himalayas or the Southern States — there are bio-resources everywhere that can be tapped. Therefore, as Bengaluru and Hyderabad taps into bio-pharma, others can look at medicinal plants, etc. But States will have to balance growth with the ecological damage it can cause if left unfettered, he pointed out. Citing the example of saffron, Kumar contends that the opportunity was in developing the molecule in saffron with its medicinal properties and making it synthetically without destroying the ecosystem. Similarly with menthol, he says, adding the “cross-talk” between ecosystems would help discovery at one end and scale-up elsewhere, if required. Companies find scaling-up difficult and would need the help of large pharma firms, for example, to invest or handhold them into taking their products to a larger market, he explains.

Bio Facts
Biologics include medicines, generally from living organisms, including animal cells and microorganisms, such as yeast and bacteria.
This makes biologics different from conventional medications, which are commonly from chemicals.
Biosimilars are biologics that are highly similar to an approved biologic.
Source: USFDA

The Global Bio-India meet saw Japanese drugmaker Takeda sign a three-year agreement with BIRAC to extend its advisory and mentoring support to innovators and entrepreneurs, assisting them from ideation to market deployment of healthcare solutions.

Bio-therapeutics hold out huge opportunities, and Indian drugmakers can help make these otherwise expensive therapies more affordable, says Sudarshan Jain, with the Indian Pharmaceutical Alliance.

About $170 billion worth of biologic products are set to go off-patent (2030), opening up an opportunity. And several companies including Reliance, Biocon, Serum Institute, Syngene, Dr Reddy’s, Emcure, Intas, are already in the fray, he said, naming a few. Besides an upgraded regulatory framework, Jain said, companies will need to work on product development and market delivery for these specialised products.

Don’t look back

Operating in a niche segment, VAV Life Sciences makes lipid nanoparticles (LNP), for example. The LNP technology is considered a breakthrough in vaccine-delivery systems, enabling the development of mRNA-based Covid-19 vaccines at a “blistering pace,” its Managing Director Arun Kedia had said when they were catapulted into the spotlight for their work with global mRNA vaccine makers.

Urging authorities to look at future-oriented targeted therapies and new drug delivery systems, Kedia says, there are huge breakthroughs to be made in cancer treatment, curing diabetes, targeting multiple sclerosis, thalassemia, lifestyle diseases, etc. But breakthroughs will not be made if one “looks back to make projections,” he says, calling for support to companies working in futuristic technologies and therapies.