Editorial Articles

Volume-50, 16-16 March, 2018


Huge Job and Business Opportunities in Indian Biotechnology Sector

Dr Ranjeet Mehta and Ms Ankita Rani

Today, all across the country, biotechnology entrepreneurs are developing the types of game-changing innovations that will transform the way we heal, fuel and feed the world. As more of these groundbreaking  innovations come to market, they will not only provide enormous societal benefits, but they will serve as an economic engine for our economy.

Biotechnology, globally recognized as a rapidly emerging and far-reaching technology, is aptly described as the "technology of hope" for its promising of food, health and environmental sustainability. The recent and continuing advances in life sciences clearly unfold a scenario energized and driven by the new tools of biotechnology. There are a large number of therapeutic biotech drugs and vaccines that are currently being marketed, accounting for a US$40 billion market and benefiting over a hundred million people worldwide. Hundreds more are in clinical development. In addition to these there are a large number of agri-biotech and industrial biotech products that have enormously helped mankind.

The Indian Biotechnology sector is gaining global visibility and is being tracked for emerging investment opportunities. Human capital is perceived to be the key driver for global competitiveness. Added to this is a decreasing appetite for risk capital in developed countries, which has led to a decline in the biotechnology sector in these regions where survival lifelines are being provided by the lower cost research environs of the developing world such as India.

For a country like India, biotechnology is a powerful enabling technology that can revolutionize agriculture, healthcare, industrial processing and environmental sustainability. The Indian biotechnology sector has, over the last two decades, taken shape through a number of scattered and sporadic academic and industrial initiatives.  The time is now ripe to integrate these efforts through a pragmatic National Biotechnology Development Strategy. It is imperative that the principal architects of this sector along with other key stakeholders play a concerted role in formulating such a strategy to ensure that we not only build on the existing platform but expand the base to create global leadership in biotechnology by unleashing the full potential of all that India has to offer.

India is amongst the top 12 biotech destinations in the world and ranks third in the Asia Pacific region. India has the second highest number of U.S. Food and Drug Administration (USFDA)-approved plants, after the USA.  India has adopted the product patent regime in 2005.  Huge domestic market and large consumer base with increasing disposable income.  India is the world's leading supplier of affordable vaccines and producer of recombinant Hepatitis B vaccine.  India is the fastest growing major economies with GDP growth rate of above 7%. India has the potential to become a major producer of transgenic rice and several genetically modified (GM) or engineered vegetables. Abundance of highly-skilled and trained pool of talent.  Special purpose organization such as Biotechnology Industry Research Assistance Council (BIRAC), a Public Sector Undertaking of Department of Biotechnology, to suppose industry through funding, mentoring, handholding and infrastructure support.

The Indian biotech industry is expected to grow at 30.46 percent CAGR to reach USD 100 billion by 2025. The Biotechnology Industry in India has grown from $1.1 billion in 2005 to $7 billion in 2015 and is expected to reach $11.6 billion in 2018. The growth is due to a range of positive trends such as growing demand for healthcare services, increasing demand for food & nutrition intensive R&D activities and strong government initiatives. The bio-pharmaceutical sector accounts for the largest share of the biotech industry with a share of 62% of total revenues in 2015, followed by bio-services (18%), bio-agri (15%), bio-industrial (4%) and bio-informatics (1%).  Supported 104 new startups, 346 companies, 509 projects including 115 collaborative projects through BIRAC, a Public Sector Unit of Government of India.

India has many assets in its strong pool of scientist and engineers, vast institutional network and cost effective manufacturing. There are over a hundred National Research Laboratories employing thousands of scientists. There are more than 300 college level educational and training institutes across the country offering degrees and diplomas in biotechnology, bio-informatics and the biological sciences, producing nearly 500,000 students on an annual basis. More than 100 medical colleges add ~17,000 medical practitioners per year. About 300,000 postgraduates and 1500 PhDs qualify in biosciences and engineering each year. These resources need to be effectively marshaled, championed and synergized to create a productive enterprise.

India is reorganized as a mega bio-diversity country and biotechnology offers opportunities to convert our biological resources into economic wealth and employment opportunities. Innovative products and services that draw on renewable resources bring greater efficiency into industrial processes, check environmental degradation and deliver a more bio-based economy.

Indian agriculture faces the formidable challenge of having to produce more farm commodities for our growing human and livestock population from diminishing per capita arable land and water resources. Biotechnology has the potential to overcome this challenge to ensure the livelihood security of 110 million farming families in our country.

We also feel that the advancement of biotech as a successful industry confronts many challenges related to research and development, creation of investment capital, technology transfer and technology absorption, patentability and intellectual property, affordability in pricing, regulatory issues and public confidence. Central to this are two key factors: affordability and accessibility to the products of biotechnology. Policies that foster a balance between sustaining innovation and facilitating technology diffusion need to be put in place.

This will require larger investments and an effective functioning of the innovation pathway.

This is the time for investment in frontier technologies such as biotechnology. It is envisaged that clearly thought-out strategies will provide direction and enable action by various stakeholders to achieve the full potential of this exciting field for the social and economic well being of the nation. Biotechnology is necessary to maintain our agriculture competitive and remunerative and to achieve nutrition security in the face of major challenges such as declining per capita availability of arable land; lower productivity of crops, livestock and fisheries, heavy production losses due to biotic (insects pests, weeds) and abiotic (salinity, drought, alkalinity) stresses; heavy post-harvest crop damage and declining availability of water as an agricultural input. Investment in agricultural related biotechnology has resulted in significantly enhanced R&D capability and institutional building over the years. However, progress has been rather slow in converting the research leads into usable products.

The spectrum of biotechnology application in agriculture is very wide and includes generation of improved crops, animals, plants of agro forestry importance; microbes; use of molecular markers to tag genes of interest; accelerating of breeding through marker - assisted selection; fingerprinting of cultivars, land raises, germplasm stocks; DNA based diagnostics for pests / pathogens of crops, farm animals and fish; assessment and monitoring of bio diversity; in vitro mass multiplication of elite planting material; embryo transfer technology for animal breeding; food and feed biotechnology. Plants and animals are being used for the production of therapeutically or industrially useful products, the emphasis being on improving efficiency and lowering the cost of production.  Nutrition and balanced diet are emerging to be important health promotional strategies. Biotechnology has a critical role in developing and processing value added products of enhanced nutritive quality and providing tools for ensuring and monitoring food quality and safety.

It has been estimated that if Biofertilizers were used to substitute only 25% of chemical fertilizers on just 50% of India's crops the potential would be 2,35,000 MT. Today about 13,000 MT of Biofertilizers are used - only 0.36% of the total fertilizer use.

Some of the areas of synergy in Biotech space are as follows:-

Maritime Resource collaborations

The economic zone of the sea as a source of novel genes and gene products - biopolymers, novel enzymes, new therapeutic leads, and other value-added products such as osmo-tolerant crops - has hardly been explored. Marine organisms also present immense potential as biosensors for pollution monitoring as well as bioreactors for production of novel products. Besides, the study of deep-sea organisms including marine microbes has tremendous implications for human health. Expertise in these diverse areas is scattered across a number of agencies/institutions.


Environmental issues concern everyone. Biotechnology has tremendous potential for application to a wide variety of environmental issues including conservation and characterization of rare or endangered taxa, afforestation and reforestation. It can help in rapid monitoring of environmental pollution, eco-restoration of degraded sites such as mining spoil dumps, treatment of effluents discharged by industries (oil refineries, dyeing and textile units, paper and pulp mills, tanneries, pesticide units etc.), treatment of solid waste, and so on. A number of technologies have already been generated and demonstrated in the country. The real challenge is their adoption by the industry, which has been somewhat uneven. In general, corporate groups have not been overly enthusiastic in adopting biotechnologies even where they have proven efficacy.

Industrial Biotechnology

At present, a third wave of biotechnology - industrial biotechnology - is strongly developing. Industrial biotechnology (also referred to as white biotechnology) uses biological systems for the production of useful chemical entities. This technology is mainly based on biocatalysis and fermentation technology in combination with recent breakthroughs in the forefront of molecular genetics and metabolic engineering. This new technology has developed into a main contributor to the so-called green chemistry, in which renewable resources such as sugars or vegetable oils are converted into a wide variety of chemical substances such as fine and bulk chemicals, pharmaceuticals, bio-colorants, solvents, bio-plastics, vitamins, food additives, bio-pesticides and bio-fuels such as bio-ethanol and bio-diesel.

Medical Biotechnology

A healthy population is essential for economic development. Important contributors to the total disease burden are infections like HIV-AIDS, tuberculosis, malaria, respiratory infections and chronic diseases affecting the heart and blood vessels, neuro-psychiatric disorders, diabetes and cancer. It is important to synchronize the technology and products with the local needs of the health system and to facilitate technology diffusion into health practice.

Increasing knowledge about pathogen genomes and subtypes, host responses to infectious challenges, molecular determinants of virulence and protective immunity and novel understanding mechanisms underlying escaped immunity and ways to develop novel immunogens will guide development of vaccines against infectious diseases. Translational research and ability to rapidly evaluate multiple candidates in clinical trials can help accelerate the pace of vaccine development.

Medical biotechnology offers a significant possibility for Indian industry to establish a strong pharmacy sector, a growing number of small and medium biotechnology companies, a large network of universities, research institutes, and medical schools and low cost of product evaluation. The medical biotechnology sector annually contributes over 2/3rd of the biotechnology industry turnover. The Indian vaccine industry has highlighted India's potential by emerging as an important source of low cost vaccine for the entire developing world.

Bio-informatics and IT - enabled Biotechnology

Bioinformatics has proved to be a powerful tool for advanced research and development in the field of biotechnology. Bioinformatics holds out strong expectations of reducing the cost and time of development of new products such as new drugs and vaccines, plants with specific properties and resistance to pests and diseases, new protein molecules and biological materials and properties. As the full genome sequences, data from micros arrays, proteomics as well as species data at the taxonomic level became available, integration of these databases require sophisticated bioinformatics tools. Organizing these data into suitable databases and developing appropriate software tools for analyzing the same are going to be major challenges. India has the potential to develop such resources at an affordable cost.

Bioinformatics in India can be used effectively for promoting research in biology; prospecting; conservation and management of bioresources; evaluation of products, processes and raw materials, managing complex data required to plan and monitor major national programs; and meeting the growing need of contract services and business outsourcing in pharma and biotechnology sectors. One of the major challenges in optimum exploitation of bioinformatics for solving life science issues is the formulation of appropriate computational biology problems that can be addressed through IT tools.

In India, Informatics for Life Sciences is an emerging sector - the market size is still quite limited (many verticals each of size USD 20 million - USD 100 million). India has strengths in Chemistry and Computer Science, Software, Health Care and biology.

To conclude, Biotechnology can deliver the next wave of technological change that can be as radical and even more pervasive than that brought about by IT. Employment generation, intellectual wealth creation, expanding entrepreneurial opportunities, augmenting industrial growth are a few of the compelling factors that warrant a focused approach for this sector.

Biotechnology as a subject has grown rapidly and as far as employment is concerned it has become one of the fast-growing sectors. Employment record shows that biotechnology has a great scope in future. Biotechnologists can find careers with pharmaceutical companies, chemical, agricultural and allied companies. They can be employed in the areas of planning, production and management of bio-processing industries. There is a large scale employment in research laboratories run by the government as well as the corporate sectors.

Biotechnology students in India may find work in government based entity such as universities, research institutes or at private centres as research scientists/ assistants. Alternatively they may find employment in specialized biotechnology companies or biotech-related companies such as pharmaceutical firms, food manufacturers, aquaculture and agricultural companies that are engaged in business related to life sciences ranging from equipment to chemicals to pharmaceuticals and diagnostics. The scope of work can range from research, sales, marketing, administration, quality control, breeding, technical support etc.

As a final point, Biotechnology sector is one of the sunrise sectors in India which has a potential to create millions of jobs. The government is investing substantially for creating human capital and infrastructure with a special focus on R&D to develop India into a world class bio manufacturing hub. The focus is on making the Indian biotechnology sector reach USD 100 billion by 2025. Currently, India's biotech industry holds 2% of the global market share and is the third largest in the Asia-Pacific region. The sector has immense potential to grow and provides plenty of opportunities to investors. The 'National IPR policy' announced by the Government of India in May 2016 while helping promote innovation, R&D and entrepreneurship, also lays down processes to expedite IPR filings, which is critical for the success of this sector.

(Dr Ranjeet Mehta, Principal Director PHD Chamber of Commerce and Industry, email ranjeetmehta@gmail.com and Ms Ankita Rani, Researcher in Biotechnology)

Image courtesy : Google