This is a guest post from Susan K Finston, President of Finston Consulting. Do you have a response to Susan’s post? Respond in the comments section below.
In comparison with the United States, starting a biotech company in India is like the experience that Ginger Rogers had in partnering with Fred Astaire in the classic Hollywood musicals: he got most of the credit, while she did everything that he did – in high heels and backwards!
As challenging as the funding environment may be in the United States for young biotech companies, it is even harder in developing countries like India where investors have largely shunned innovative biotechnology ventures:
Going back five years, India has seen exactly 11 private equity deals totaling $43 million, and eight VC deals worth a combined $55 million. That’s an embarrassment in a nation that actually drew $1.1 billion in total venture capital in 172 deals last year—only to see nearly all the money go to IT, e-commerce, and consumer goods startups.
Critics blame lack of clarity and consistency in policy signals from the Center, including the lack of effective tax credits or similar incentives for investment in high-risk, high-reward biotechnology ventures. Additional issues that have cropped up in recent years relating to proposed caps for foreign investors (not implemented), price controls (soon to be implemented), incentives for translational research (nearly absent), and effective IP protection for bio-pharma (compulsory licenses, new pending guidelines for review of biotechnology inventions, lack of data exclusivity) – all contribute to ongoing investor malaise.
With the lack of VC and angel support for higher-risk early stage biotech, it is hardly surprising that the Indian market is characterized as biotech without start-ups. India’s impressive growth in the biotechnology sector – from $150 million USD in 2001 to over $3.5 billion by the end of 2012 – is due largely through expanding contract services including everything from discovery and CRAMS work through clinical research services, and continuing prowess in generics and biosimilars.
Western companies continue to look to India for partnering as a low-cost service provider and also have found good acquisition opportunities in recent years. For all its size and research potential, however, India has yet to produce a single original drug for the global market. What does this mean for the future of innovative biotechnology in India? Is it possible to launch a successful biotech start-up?
So far, as co-founder of Amrita Therapeutics Ltd., I have more questions than answers. Amrita has had a number of near death experiences, along with encouraging developments from time to time that renew our commitment to bring novel cancer therapies to world markets that are truly ‘Made in India.’ Only time will tell as to whether Indian policymakers will provide needed incentives and support for innovative biotechnology – inclusive of start-ups that have been so productive in the U.S. context, yet are largely absent in India.
About the author:
President of Finston Consulting LLC since 2005, Susan works with innovative biotechnology and other clients ranging from start-up to Fortune-100, providing support for legal, transactional, policy and “doing business” issues. Susan has extensive background and special expertise relating to intellectual property and knowledge-economy issues in advanced developing countries including India and South Asia, Latin America and the Middle East North Africa (MENA) region. She also works with governments, s and NGOs on capacity building and related educational programs through BayhDole25. Together with biotechnology pioneer Ananda Chakrabarty, she also is co-founder of Amrita Therapeutics Ltd., an emerging biopharmaceutical company based in India with cancer peptide drugs entering in vivo research. Previous experience includes 11 years in the U.S Foreign Service with overseas tours in London, Tel Aviv, and Manila and at the Department of State in Washington DC. For more information on latest presentations and publications please visit finstonconsulting.com.