The New Biology of the 21st Century – Can India Innovate in These Interesting Times?


Dr Nirmalya Kumar (see London Business of Economics-Talk-You Tube) in her famous TEDx 2012 conference claimed that India is invisibly innovating in all areas of business, including pharmacy and biotechnology.

Our experience has been that modern biology broken down into academic research and translational science poses two different challenges for India. Indian Academia is unable to create quality doctorates to research and develop translational sciences such as Modern OMICS and Integrated OMICS.

More and more in MNC Pharmas in the West and smaller biotech companies are serving as discovery nerve centers, which are acquired over a period of time or the kind of Regeneron and SanofiFrance collaboration that lead to blockbusters like Eyelea.

The Indian experience was after billions of dollars of investment in pharmacy and biotechnology, no new NCE or NBE has emerged at the forefront of the global value chain of drug discovery. Still, don’t overlook. Contract research firms in India that have embarked on preclinical testing and chemistry and biology services have nowhere to go in India except to innovate. Pharmaceutical companies in India have reached a stage of generics saturation, rather than fighting their Western peers over patents, they had better start innovating. So, as Dr Nirmalya Kumar points out, for our test case, biotechnology in India is at the crossroads for innovative ideas.

Make in India Programs on Indian soil have fueled many biotechnology programs, but are still in their infancy. What then is the solution. Technology parks, industrial collaborations, ecosystems like Silicon Valley.

In a remarkable book by Gary Pisano Harvard, professor of biotechnology business, he says he sees biotechnology that no one has seen as a dynamic and most innovative industry in the world. Yet in 40 years it has hardly taken shape around the world. In his famous book Science Business, he says that if you take out the top earners in terms of income from publicly traded companies in the United States, the rest bleeds.

It tells you something to think about. Here in India, professors are barely coming out of their shell to start new biotech companies, with a few exceptions. India, in order to become a global enterprising country in biotechnology, first needs global research centers like the United States. We should have state and central scientific institutions that will innovate without waiting for nothing, as President Obama says, we will innovate like no one else and 50 years later, basic basic research will start to produce Tesla of biotechnology.

In genomics, India is lagging behind. Genomics is a purely basic science and the NIH has launched an integrated OMICS institute. Without OMICS, drug discovery today is like walking without legs. That said, Indian OMICS companies are just sequence hubs. While discovery programs are just reengineering shops, OMICS programs only apply to Sequence and Bioinformation shops. We have really fallen behind China and South Korea, which have taken the lead in building big companies like the Beijing Genome Institute and other well-known companies like Macrogen.

So where does India stand in the development of biopharmaceutical biosimilars, new biologics, drug discovery and development based on RNA and DNA. We have to start at some point to innovate at least invisibly through our CROs embarking on globally competitive projects. NEW BIOLOGICALS must be developed in India as the biosimilar game will not be enough for India to overtake Western competition.

New biologics will cost US $ 2 billion today, and OMICS technologies are producing disease data much faster than ever. India has two inherent strong foundations: Math and Stat. Computing is at the heart of the Indian, it can never be avoided. Thus, in the interdisciplinary science of genome informatics, India can become a leader in assisting drug discovery and development programs and contributing to the discovery of chemistry and biology.

In fact, you can’t be successful without failures, assures Naubar Afeyan, the largest Boston-based principal investor. In India, except for a few investments again, none of them carried the risk appetite. RISK is intrinsically woven into biotechnology.

Prof. C.V. Raman did it in India out of curiosity and not to monetize. Let’s do it in our homeland, Make in India, this is only possible with qualified leadership at the head of visionary companies.

MV Ramanujam, Managing Director, Propinquity Sciences-Consulting, Bengaluru

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