Updated on 7 May 2013
Application of biotechnology in agriculture is clearly complex and needs patience, persistence and a sense of proportion, backed by a strong regulatory agency. It is hoped that the Biotechnology Regulatory Authority of India (BRAI) bill is pending with the government for some time now will see the light of day at the earliest. While the Indian biotech industry must build on its current manufacturing and service strengths, there is a growing realization that cost advantage, which has served it well, will not last long. Clearly, it is time to move decisively towards discovery and innovation, both for the sake of the industry and the public-funded institutions.
However, this is easier said than done as, in doing so, several challenges have to be overcome. These include continued lack of quality human resource of the right kind; weak entrepreneurial skills in a society that frowns on failure, inadequate public-private partnerships, weak mechanisms and infirm policy structures for technology transfer between public institutions and private firms, insufficient venture capital, scarce ignition grant system, and a science-led, transparent, evidence-based regulatory system.
Processes to rectify these have been put in place but obviously more vigorous efforts will be needed. The biotechnology sector calls for a long-term, integrated perspective with predictable and transparent fiscal, regulatory and policy support as it involves several stakeholders for consistent success. In the past it has taken shape mostly through a series of scattered and sporadic academic and industry initiatives. The National Biotechnology Development Strategy approved by the government in 2007 was the first attempt to build coherence and continuity across domains and disciplines, and promote synergy through a holistic vision and a roadmap.
Most of the promises made have been met, notably several measures to promote discovery and innovation including the Biotechnology Industry Partnership Program, setting up of Biotechnology Industry Research Assistance Council, Wellcome-DBT Affordable Healthcare Initiative and Stanford-India Biodesign Program. In an area in which there are exciting developments on a daily basis, newer challenges keep emerging even before old ones go away. Given this ground reality, it is important to continuously redefine the exemplar of relationship between industry, academia, public sector and civil society.
A re-evaluation of the technological, fiscal, societal, and policy interventions that are needed to make the Indian biotech sector more vibrant over the next five-to-seven years has now become necessary. This will take us closer towards making India a major global biotech hub commensurate with its population size and potential.