What changes will India's next Prime Minister bring to India's Innovative Life Sciences?

Susan Kling FinstonThis 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.

India’s recent election has brought a decisive majority to the right-of-center BJP Party, carrying BJP leader Narendra Modi to the Prime Minister’s office. What will the decisive BJP Victory mean for the future of innovative life sciences in India? Will Prime Minister Modi re-invigorate commercial biotechnology in Delhi?

The State of Gujarat has long been a been a manufacturing and export powerhouse for generic pharmaceuticals, where “Gujarat contributes nearly 28 per cent to national pharmaceutical exports.” In contrast to the broader challenges facing bio-pharma growth in India, Gujarat has continued as a bright spot for pharmaceutical exports, enjoying double-digit growth over the last fiscal year. Long recognized as a manufacturing powerhouse, Gujarat has captured an outsize share – now exceeding 40% of India’s total generics turnover. 

During his 12-year tenure as Chief Minister of the State of Gujarat, Minister Modi identified the innovative life sciences as having great development potential, having seen the benefits to India’s southern states of Karnataka and Andhra Pradesh from the Information and Communications Technology (ICT) revolution. Then-Chief Minister Modi set out to to attract highly innovative life sciences companies to the State through seed funding programs as well as promotion of the sector at Vibrant Gujarat – a bi-annual pan-industrial congress attracting industry leaders from across India and abroad.

Established under the jurisdiction of the Gujarat State Biotechnology Mission (GSBTM) and administered by the Gujarat Venture Fund Limited (GVFL), the Gujarat Biotech Venture Fund (GBVF) provides seed funding to innovative companies registered in Gujarat. (Full disclosure: my biotech start-up, Amrita Therapeutics Public Limited, received initial seed funding under the GBVF that enabled the company to initiate R&D at the depths of the global economic crisis in early 2009.) I met Minister Modi at the 2009 Vibrant Gujarat  in Gandhinagar, and witnessed first hand the intensive efforts underway to support growth of Gujarat’s innovative biotech sector.

Now Prime Minister-elect Modi has the opportunity to ‘green light’ incentives to encourage home-grown biotech start-ups across the country, including:

  • Investment Tax Credits to encourage investment by VCs and Angel Investors in ‘high risk, high reward’ biotech discovery companies that require a substantial commitment of funds for a decade or more before commercial launch
  • Expansion of current Department of Biotechnology (DBT) industry partnership programs, with an orientation to support for cutting-edge, biotech ventures vs. established pharma manufacturers
  • Focus on regulatory excellence: Indian industry – and Indian’s own citizens – can only thrive in an environment with unquestionable Good Manufacturing Practices (GMP) and Good Clinical Practices (GCP)
  • Collaborate closely with the International Conference on Harmonisation of Technical Requirements of Pharmaceuticals for Human Use (ICH) to ensure that Indian clinical trials fully meet international standards and that Indian patients gain access to clinical research for indigenous innovative therapies and cures for cancer and other high priority public health threats

Beyond increasing access to early capital, the Indian Government also could do more specifically to promote innovative oncology research to address the growing public health threat of colorectal and other cancers for Indian nationals. In the U.S. and in India alike, biotechnology companies historically take root and multiply in clusters in close proximity with other biotech companies, research institutes, and incubation facilities that provide access to wet-labs and high-cost, sensitive equipment and other supplies — Establishment of focused research clusters for oncology R&D would bring long-term benefits.

The Indian electorate voted decisively for change and economic reforms to encourage the assimilation of new technologies for broader social and economic benefits. Time will tell whether Prime Minister-elect Modi will again focus efforts on biotechnology – beyond Gujarat’s borders – for the benefit of India and the world.

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, 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.

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