'Biotech Could Take India Ahead'

Leveraging on Biotechnology will bode well for the country’s growth, believes Biocon’s Chairman, Kiran Mazumdar Shaw

Published: 23rd February 2015 06:00 AM  |   Last Updated: 20th February 2015 06:14 AM   |  A+A-

Kiran Mazumdar Shaw, Chairman and Managing Director of Biocon, India’s largest Biopharmaceuticals company, has drawn global recognition both for India and Biocon. Her vision and pioneering efforts have helped Karnataka become a biotechnology cluster. In a chat with edex, she speaks about the scope and trends of the field.


What’s the value and scope of Biotechnology studies and research in India or are there better prospects abroad?

The biotechnology industry in India is currently valued at about $11 billion. A favourable business environment can help biotech and healthcare sectors generate combined revenues of $100 billion by 2025. If India can successfully tackle the gaps in infrastructure and challenges in the policy and funding domains, the country has a huge potential to become the leading global innovation hub for biotech. India has been recognised world over as a preferred outsourcing destination for contract research and manufacturing due to its competitive advantages of high quality English-speaking scientific talent pool and relatively lower cost of innovation and manufacturing. Therefore, it’s incorrect to assume that there are better prospects abroad.  In fact, many experienced professionals of Indian origin have returned to the country to be a part of the cutting-edge research. However, we are fast losing this advantage to China due to existing regulatory and infrastructure challenges, and need a smart regulatory environment that encourages and rewards innovation.

Karnataka had realised early that a key ingredient for creation of an innovation hub is the presence of a skilled, cost-effective workforce. With this objective in mind, the Institute of Bioinformatics and Applied Biotechnology was established as early as 2001 in Bangalore. In fact, Karnataka was also the first Indian State to bring out a policy for the Biotechnology industry in 2001. Subsequently, it also introduced the Millennium Biotech Policy II, a revised policy, in 2009, to build upon the achievements of the 2001 policy. This policy encourages the establishment of Biotechnology finishing schools across the State. Biocon is taking this even further by setting up The Biocon Academy, an advanced Biotechnology programme in Bangalore, to provide rigorous, industry-relevant training and equip graduates and postgraduates with the skills needed to add value to the biotech industry.

Today, the essence of Biotechnology is most prominent in Genetic Research and Drug Designing. However, it is effectively being used for conservation of natural resources and developing newer sources of alternative energy, as well. Which field of study (Genetic, Agricultural or Industrial) is gaining prominence?

Genetic Engineering has applications in Pharmaceuticals, Agriculture, Industrial Enzymes and Biometrics. Synthetic Biology is gaining great prominence in developing new diagnostics, novel vaccines and drugs and value-added nutritional and food ingredients.

Biofuels is a key emerging area that is effectively using both Genetic Engineering and Synthetic Biology to develop technologies that can convert complex plant sugars into fuel alcohol, both in fresh and sea water. India imports more than 80 per cent of the fuel that it consumes. In fact, oil imports accounted for one-third of India’s total import bill in 2011-12. With oil demand expected to grow by 40 per cent over the next decade, biofuels offer an attractive opportunity to conserve and economise the use of conventional fuels like petrol and diesel. Thus, research on finding cheaper and more efficient methods of producing biofuels holds great promise.

India currently has a marginal share in the global market for industrial enzymes that is estimated to reach about $4.4 billion by 2015. So there is an opportunity in focused R&D and knowledge-based innovation in the field of industrial enzymes, which can innovatively replace polluting chemical processes into eco-friendly processes that also deliver environmental sustainability.

Another interesting field of study is the area of bio-markers and companion diagnostics, which will enable to optimise the benefits of biotech drugs. Our IT prowess can be leveraged to broaden the application of Bioinformatics. DNA-based Biometrics can far outweigh the benefits of retinal and fingerprinting technologies of today and emerge as the most reliable identification technology of the future. Its application in the Aadhar programme can spearhead a powerful global paradigm.  The cost of gene sequencing is following Moore’s law (an observation that, over the history of computing hardware, the number of transistors in a dense integrated circuit doubles approximately every two years) and can compete effectively with present day Biometrics. India must avail of its Bio-IT skills to do this. Telemedicine and Mobile Health are other areas where we can combine our expertise in Life Sciences and IT to improve healthcare delivery.


How can India benefit from Biotechnology?

Biotechnology can play a significant role in meeting the economy’s challenges. As a significant stakeholder in India’s biotech journey, I see the following as the critical biotech objectives for India to be achieved by 2025: energy independence through bio-fuels; healthcare for all through vaccines, therapeutics and diagnostics; zero public defecation through bio-toilets; individual households and community toilets at `5,000 per toilet; zero landfills through bioconversion of solid waste to fuel and fertiliser; eradicate malnutrition through protein and vitamin supplements derived from genetically modified plants and microbial fermentation; two-fold increase in agricultural productivity through Biotechnology to create food surplus; de-pollute all rivers in India through bioremediation and green technologies; make polluting industries ‘green’ through Biotechnology; sewage treatment as a national mission through zero discharge effluent treatment technologies and eradicate vector-borne diseases like dengue, chikungunya and malaria.


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