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In-Depth Jobs

Issue no 7, 14 May - 20 May 2022

Biotechnology Sector Driving Growth, Creating Jobs


Biotechnology entrepreneurs are developing 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 will also serve as a growth 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 promise 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 the development stage. In addition to these, there are a large number of agribiotech and industrial biotech products that have enormously helped mankind.

India's Share in Biotech

 India is among the top 12 destinations for biotechnology globally and third largest in the Asia Pacific region. In 2020, the Indian Biotech industry reached a market size of US$70.2 billion, growing by 12.3% as compared to the previous year. The bio economy has observed almost a 95% increase in valuation over the last five years, with COVID-19 pandemic boosting it even further. The Indian biotechnology industry amounted to US$ 63 billion in 2019 and is forecast to reach US$ 150 billion by 2025, with a CAGR of 16.4%. By 2025, the contribution of the Indian biotechnology industry in the global biotechnology market is expected to grow to 19% from 3% in 2017. The sector is also making an increasing contribution towards national GDP and is a key part of India's vision of reaching a US$ 5 trillion economy by 2024.

The growth can be attributed to a range of positive trends such as growing demand for healthcare services, increased demand for food & nutrition, intensive R&D activities and strong government initiatives. Presently, key drivers for growth in the biotech sector are increasing investments, outsourcing activities, exports and the government's focus on the sector. 100% Foreign Direct Investment (FDI) is allowed under the automatic route for Greenfield pharma. 100% Foreign Direct Investment (FDI) is allowed under the government route for Brownfield pharma if upto 74% FDI is under automatic route and beyond 74% is under government approval route. FDI up to 100% is allowed under the automatic route for the manufacturing of medical devices.

 India is recognized 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.

The Biotechnology sector is divided into five major segmentsBio-pharma, Bio-services, Bioagri, Bio-industrial, and Bioinformatics. The biopharmaceutical sector accounts for the largest share of the biotech industry with a share of 64% of total revenues, followed by bioservices with 18% market share. India is becoming a leading destination for clinical trials, contract research, and manufacturing activities, which is further fueling the growth of the bio-services sector. Bio-agri segments accounted for 14% of the biotech industry in 2015-16, while the remaining market is catered by bio-industrial (3%) and bio-informatics (1%). For a country like India, biotechnology is a powerful enabling technology that can revolutionize agriculture, healthcare, industrial processing and environmental sustainability.

There are several social concerns that need to be addressed in order to propel the emergence of biotechnology innovation in our country such as conserving bioresources and ensuring safety of products and processes. Government and industry have to play a dual role to advance the benefits of modern biotechnology while at the same time educate and protect the interests of the public. Wide utilization of new technologies would require clear demonstration of the new added value to all stakeholders. There has been substantial progress in terms of support for R&D, human resource generation and infrastructure development over the past decade. With the introduction of the product patent regime it is imperative to achieve higher levels of innovation in order to be globally competitive. The challenge now is to join the global biotech league.

This will require larger investments and an effective functioning of the innovation pathway. Capturing new opportunities and the potential economic, environmental, health and social benefits will challenge government policy, public awareness, and educational, scientific, technological, legal and institutional framework. The issue of access to the products arising from biotechnology research in both medicine and agriculture is of paramount importance. Therefore, there should be adequate support for public good research designed to reach the unreached in terms of technology empowerment. Both "public good" and "for profit" research should become mutually reinforcing. Public institutions and industry both have an important role in the process.

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 wellbeing of the nation.

Areas of Synergy in Biotech Space

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 osmotolerant 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.

Environment: 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.

The goal of environmental biotechnology would be to provide cost-effective and clean alternatives for risk assessment and quality monitoring, ecorestoration of degraded habitats, conversion of toxic recalcitrant chemicals into harmless byproducts, bioremediation of wastes, value-added products from biomass, control of biological invasion through biotechnological interventions, greener process technologies, and effective ex situ conservation strategies. These can be fulfilled through a deeper understanding - and engineering - of the metabolic pathways for degradation of toxicants, environmental genomics and proteomics, and other molecular techniques.

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 socalled 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 bioethanol and bio-diesel.

The application of industrial biotechnology offers significant ecological advantages. Agricultural crops are used as starting raw materials, instead of using fossil resources such as crude oil and gas. This technology consequently has a beneficial effect on greenhouse gas emissions and at the same time supports the agricultural sector producing these raw materials. Industrial biotechnology frequently shows significant performance benefits compared to conventional chemical technology.

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.

New directions in manufacturing and delivery are emerging. Major opportunities to control costs are the more efficient processes for manufacturing of new pharmaceuticals, more efficient systems for production of therapeutic proteins and biomaterials and development of drug delivery systems that release drugs at a target site. A shift from parenteral to oral or transcutaneous administration of drugs and vaccine holds the promise of simplifying delivery in health systems.

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 micro 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.

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.

There is no doubt that 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 author is a Research Scholar in Biotechnology, Himalayan University, Dehradun. She can be reached at ankitashrivastav062@gmail.com)

Views expressed are personal.