Wednesday, December 30, 2015

India’s Ambitious Biotech Strategy

Senior adviser, DBT Dr Renu Sahay, secretary DBT Dr K Vijay Raghavan  & India's S&T minister Dr Harsh Vardhan at the launch ceremony of National Biotechnology Development Strategy 2015-20
  By Vinod Varshney

To keep pace with the revolutionary global advances in biotechnology, which has given novel agricultural, health, energy and environmental products, India has formulated its own ambitious strategy to emerge as a major player in this field. 

The National Biotechnology Development Strategy: 2015-20 has set a target of taking the current biotechnology industry size from $ 7 billion to $ 100 billion by 2025. The 36-page document prepared after discussing with various stakeholders over two years was formally released today by union minister of S&T and Earth Sciences, Dr Harsh Vardhan.  

The Strategy has for the first time opened the door for global public-private partnership which will usher global giants to establish their R&D Centres and manufacturing units in India with the help of government. Will this not hamper the growth of indigenous biotech companies? Dr Renu Sahay, the senior advisor in the Department of Biotechnology says, ‘No, it would, on the contrary, expose indigenous companies to global standards, practices and technologies. Ultimately they would benefit from all this.’ 

The general feeling among policy makers in India is that biotechnology holds similar promise of sparkling growth in India which information technology (IT) has been able to demonstrate in the past two decades. But India’s remarkable success in IT did not require any global public-private partnership, then why this is needed in the field of biotechnology? Dr K Vijay Raghavan, secretary Department of Biotechnology says, ‘India’s success in the IT sector is in services, which did not require this, but biotechnology is a much more complex thing which needs a lot of high tech research, therefore, partnering with global players would help India.’  

The Strategy cannot succeed without developing quality human resource in sufficient number that is not only highly skilled in bio-chemistry and bio-sciences but also innovative and possessing entrepreneurship. To take care of this issue, several initiatives have been formulated including launching of dual degree MSc-MBA programmes in agribusiness, pharma business and bio enterprise management. 

To spur research, several plans have been enumerated in the Strategy including giving due focus on translational research to convert basic research into technology to manufacture useful products. The plan is to establish Technology Development & Translational Cells in fifty research intensive universities of the country. This apart, 150 Technology Transfer Organisations would be set up across the country in research institutes and universities. All this will help in carrying forward four major biotechnology missions in healthcare, food and nutrition, clean energy and education.

The new Strategy has been formulated on the foundation laid down by an earlier strategy scripted for 2007-12 that was adopted by the UPA government in 2007 which helped the country establishing a robust infrastructure which led to numerous successes. Owing to this, two thirds of the world’s children today get at least one of the vaccines that is produced in India. It could evolve necessary guidelines for transgenic plants, recombinant vaccines & drugs, stem cell therapy etc. 

India could have done much better, but for the unpredictable changes in the way science and technology is done globally. Scientists in Indian labs have been working with the low-end equipments and most of the components had to be imported. It is being felt they can be easily produced in India at a fraction of the cost, says Dr K Vijay Raghavan. The new strategy has taken care of such issues perhaps because it has been formulated in consultation with the Niti Ayog which wants to promote innovation and entrepreneurship in all fields. 

There have been terrific developments in biotechnology in recent years with the revolutionary new ways of gene editing posing new legal, scientific and regulatory challenges. This aspect has been taken care of in the new strategy.


  1. There should be strong regulatory mechanism in place to create trust and answer issues that are raised by activists. Hope the strategy would succeed.

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