Sunday, June 10, 2007


Indian biotech goes global


Indian biotechnology has been seen as a highly promising business; but till now the sector has been barely visible to the public eye, unlike, for instance, information technology. Nor has much media ink been invested in it.

However, there are signs now that the industry is close to an inflection point that will see it get on to a much sharper growth curve and greater visibility. One such is the lengthening list of the world's biggest biotech and life sciences companies that are heading Indiawards, looking to do a range of activities, from clinical research to drug discovery.

They are said to be attracted by India's talent and low costs and capabilities demonstrated by a host of small Indian biotech companies. Biogen Idec, founded in 1978 and said to be the oldest biotech company in the world, set up an Indian subsidiary earlier this year with the objective of doing R&D and integrating India into its global clinical development programmes.

The $15-billion Amgen, the world's largest biotech company, is said to be planning a direct presence in India, with its own clinical development centre. The US company may also conduct core drug discovery related activities.

Other global majors like Genentech, Genzyme, Pall Life Sciences, Agilent Technologies' biotech division, Histogenetics have either just set up base in India, or are seen to be close to doing so.

Alok Gupta, country head (life sciences & technology) of Yes Bank, says he saw a broad level of interest among foreign companies at the Biotechnology Industry Organisation International Convention in Boston, US, last month that saw some 22,000 participants, including a strong contingent from India. Nobby Nazareth, CEO of Leader Prospects, who was part of the same event, echoes that view.

Dr Amanda Caples, director-biotechnology, state government of Victoria, Australia, believes it makes great sense for Australian drug development companies to look at India to conduct clinical trials and research. It is estimated that trials cost 30% less to do in India compared to Australia and about 50% less compared to US. With drug development costs reaching astronomical levels — about $1 billion, of which some 70% is spent on trials and R&D, India presents a great opportunity, according to Dr Caples.

Even scientists are much cheaper. Alok Gupta says a scientist who in US would have to be paid between $200,000 and $300,000 a year, can be hired in India for about $60,000.

Dr Alpna Seth, who heads Biogen Idec India, says an additional advantage is the country's English-speaking population "which coupled with the vast talent pool in the field of science and technology is of great significance in a highly regulated knowledge industry like ours, that involves a considerable amount of documentation and communications." Frost & Sullivan estimates the turnover of the Indian biotechnology industry to be $2 billion this year.

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