India is amongst the top 12 biotech destinations in the world and ranks second in Asia, after China. It is also the leading producer and supplier of vaccines to the world. The Indian biotechnology segment grows at approximately 15 percent per year. Some of the estimates suggest that it is poised to increase to $10 billion by 2015. Rising investments from foreign companies, increase in R&D and infrastructure investments from the private and public sectors, emerging market for contract research, increasing clinical capabilities in drug discovery and rising opportunities to outsource manufacturing functions to the country are the key factors driving this market growth. Out of the different biotechnology sectors, pharmaceutical biotechnology accounts for 60 percent of the total revenues. This is followed by biotechnology services at 20 percent, agricultural biotechnology at 14 percent, industrial biotechnology at 4 percent, and bioinformatics at 2 percent.
If we look at the growth of biotech industry in India in retrospect, we can clearly see that it started in South India, particularly in two megacities, Bangalore and Hyderabad. The reason for maximum growth of biotech industry in South India has been the focused attention by the government on high quality teaching and research in life sciences at some of the institutions of excellence in Bangalore and Hyderabad. These institutions also had the progressive vision to closely interact with industry to develop technologies to the extent that they become commercially viable. The concerned state governments have also played a positive role in framing policies to support the growth of these industries besides ensuring basic infrastructural necessities of the industry such as land, road, electric and water supply. The excellence in life sciences research led to greater strides in several areas of bio sciences, but the main impact was felt in vaccine research where India is a world leader.
In addition to consolidating our strength developed in and around some cities such as Bangalore and Hyderabad, we need to expand such capabilities in the rest of India. This will depend on the ability of the government to liberally fund and carefully nurture some of the promising institutions in other parts of the country to facilitate their transformation into the world class institutions of excellence in teaching and research so as to become prominent centers which can cater to the needs of biotech industry and catalyze its growth like the pattern of Bangalore and Hyderabad. The initial input from the government in the development of the institutions in life sciences will enable proper utilization of the capabilities of human capital from rest of the India towards a much faster and more equitable growth of the biotech industry in our country. Although several state governments have taken initiatives to establish biotech parks and clusters, they have had limited success and impact due to poor availability of trained manpower in that region and lack of willingness of well trained graduates and experts to work in other parts of the country.
Biotech industry grows not only from in-depth research in specified area, but mainly from the closer interaction of scientists from different fields. Right from 1970s, when biotechnology was borne by the fusion of ideas of Dr Stanley Cohen, a plasmid biologist and Dr Herb Boyer, a pioneer expert to produce restriction enzymes, innovations in biotechnology have happened mainly from interdisciplinary interactions.
Universities which offer courses in different areas of science, technology, human health and agriculture provide a fertile ground for breeding the graduates to meet the need of different sectors of biotech industry. In order to improve the commercial output of the biotech industry, which demands well trained human resource as a critical input, the biotech industry needs to closely interact with the academic institutions to enable them to revise their curricula to suit the needs of the industry. Now there is a need of an investment by the government and by the industry in creating chairs to appoint faculty who can cater to the industry specific needs of skill development and can develop a synergy between biotech industry and the government through such institutions to produce graduates with employable skills. Availability of highly skilled graduates with biotech industry orientation will attract establishment of biotech companies around these hubs of quality biotech education in the rest of India.
At present the demand of biotech graduates at the entry level in the biotechnology industry is not very encouraging because of the inadequately trained degree holders in biotechnology, and relatively poor experimental skills of these graduates who are passing out from a large number of ill-equipped institutions offering biotechnology degrees without having properly trained faculty in biotechnological skills.