Indian biotech showcased at Bangalore Bio

Indian biotech showcased at Bangalore Bio

For the ninth consecutive year, India’s biotechnology community gathered at Bangalore for Bangalore Bio to debate current issues and plan future strategy. Viveka Roychowdhury reports

Inauguration ceremony
Prithviraj Chavan, Hon’ble Minister of State (Independent Charges) for Science & Technology and Earth Science makes the rounds of the stalls in the Exhibition. In the background, is the Express Pharma and

Express Biotech stall

Dr Geeta Sharma, Chief Scientific Officer, Xcelris Labs, Krishna Handa, Founding Director, Xcelris Labs receiving the Bio Excellence Award for ‘Best Emerging Genomics Service Provider Company of India’ from Noble Laureate, Dr (Prof.) Richard Roberts

Organised by the Department of Information Technology, Biotechnology and Science & Technology, Government of Karnataka, and Vision Group on Biotechnology, Bangalore Bio has become the bellwether of the Indian biotech industry and this year saw an increased flow of overseas delegations, reflecting the serious intent of these investors and governments.

In his inaugural address, Prithviraj Chavan, Hon’ble Minister of State (Independent Charges) for Science & Technology and Earth Science, Prime Ministers’ Office & Minister of State for Personnel, Public Grievances and Pensions – Government of India said, “The pharmaceutical sector, with a growth of 65 percent, is no doubt a leader, therefore there is a fear that there is too much attention being paid to this sector and to other sectors like agriculture. The Indian biotech sector has achieved leadership, as a leading manufacturer of vaccines in the world.”

Addressing a key concern of the public, Chavan cautioned that, “While we introduce more Genetically Modified (GM) crops, we need to ensure that there is strict adherence to Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs) and we engage the civilian population to allay fears and create confidence.”

Giving the Presidential Address, BS Yeddyurappa, Hon’ble Chief Minister of Karnataka outlined various measures his government will take to help the Indian biotech segment, which has seen a dip in growth rates from 35-40 percent to18 percent in the last financial year. He announced that Karnataka Government will release a revised Biotech Policy within a month, in which “certain provisions of the Policy that are hampering the growth of the industry will be changed with an aim to help increased capacity building, fiscal incentives and concessions to the industry.”

“In addition to giving incentives and concessions to industry, State Government is also boosting the academic activities in the state by way of allotting 1,500 acres of land at Chitradurga for the second campus of Indian Institute of Science (IISc), resolving to set up a new agriculture university at Raichur and a horticultural university in Bagalkot, ” added Yeddyurappa.

Unveiling more goodies for the state, Katta Subramanya Naidu, Hon’ble Minister for IT & BT, Information, Excise and BWSSB, Government of Karnataka said, “Bangalore is already a hub for biotech activity with 187 companies with a major thrust on clinical research, clinical trials and contract manufacturing. State Government is trying to speed the development of the industry by taking it to Tier II and III cities. In these lines, government is planning Agri-Biotech Park at Dharwad, Marine Biotech Park at Mangalore, Animal House at Bidar and Phyto- pharmaceuticals Biotech Park at Mysore.”

The other dignitaries present during the inauguration include HE Miguel Angel Ramirez Ramos – Ambassador, Republic of Cuba, Friedrich Rahn -Acting Consul General Consulate General of the Federal Republic of Germany, Richard Hyde – British Deputy High Commissioner, Karnataka, Ashok Kumar C Manoli – Karnataka Principal Secretary for IT&BT and Science & Technology, Dr Kiran Mazumdar Shaw, Chairperson, Karnataka’s Vision Group on Biotechnology and CMD Biocon, Aravind Jannu, IAS, Director, Directorate of IT & BT, Government of Karnataka & MD – KBITS, Sudhakara Rao, Chief Secretary – Government of Karnataka.

Multi track event

The three-day long event, held at Hotel Ashok Lalit consisted of six conference tracks, and international trade show spread over four halls. Besides this, the BioPartnering initiative saw a number of one-to-one meetings between delegates. The CEO Conclave, Bio IP Zone and Bio Excellence Awards were the other events which drew crowds.

The panel discussion at the CEO Conclave held on the first evening, focused on “The strategies for Indian Biotech in the new economic world order.” Ashok Kumar C Manoli – Karnataka Principal Secretary for IT&BT and Science & Technology, said “In the backdrop of global meltdown, biotech industry should see new opportunities and consolidation possibilities.”

Making a very pertinent point, Srikumar Suryanarayanan, Director General, Association of Biotechnology Led Enterprises (ABLE) who moderated the Panel Discussion at the Conclave, said, “In order to catch up with the market and shorten lab-to-market cycle, Indian CROs should not settle for lesser standards that are normally acceptable to Indian levels. They should think of meeting the stringent standards in the world, if they really want to compete in international markets.”

Emphasising the same philosophy, Dr. Kiran Mazumdar Shaw, Chairperson, Karnataka’s Vision Group on Biotechnology and CMD, Biocon, said, “We have to transition fast from a ‘cut-and-paste’ generic chemical mindset to an innovative mindset. We should not have an ’emerging market strategy’. We should target the regulated markets and have all the data in place for regulatory compliance.” She cautioned that generics and services will commoditise fast unless you differentiate and innovate fast.

Speaking for the agri sector, K K Narayanan, MD, Metahelix and past president of ABLE, said, “As the poor farmer is the one actually paying for the delays (in bringing maximum productivity from crop area) biotech application in agri sector should be accelerated.” According to him, the three issues to be addressed on urgent basis are to make agriculture profitable, introduce the necessary regulatory reforms, needed for encouraging biotech crops, and that the states need to do more than the Center to create more value as agricultural universities work closely with state governments.

Samir K Brahmachari, Director General, Council of Scientific & Industrial Research (CSIR) reasoned that, “The investment made in the 1950s in the national chemical sector is yielding tremendous results today. That kind of investment in innovation is needed in biotech sector. Though we have many talented professionals in India, we are lacking in generating innovative ideas.” Demonstrating his point, he said, “Of the top ten holders of Intellectual Property (IP) in India, while CSIR holds the number one position, the next nine are MNCs. “When the mindset is changed, investment is not a constraint as we can cross geographical boundaries of the country for this purpose,” he concluded. Presenting another point of view, Robert Lee Kilpatrick, Founder, Technology Vision Group, US, said, “The biggest challenge India is facing is not the innovation, but communicating about their abilities to the other countries and getting the right partners.”

“Recession is an opportunity”

Nobel Laureate Dr Richard J Roberts, also Chief Scientific Officer, New England Biolabs delivered an inspiring Inaugural Keynote Address in the Opening Plenary of the Conference on the second day, where he exhorted the audience to “think of the recession as an opportunity … make and build on your plans, so that you are ready when the money starts coming in and by then there won’t be too many competitors.”

Declaring that he is a great believer in small companies, he reasoned, “The advantage of starting small is that you can control your own show and you are not responsible to investors.” He shortlisted GM foods, bioenergy, stem cell research, synthetic biology, the pharma industry, personalised medicine and RNA as the areas that look promising.

The event saw large delegations from Germany, UK & Australia as well as participation from countries like France, Spain, Italy, Holland, US, Canada, Cuba, Singapore, Malaysia, Japan, Iran and UAE. A large team of British companies attended Bangalore Bio, as part of a delegation led by UK Trade and Investment (UKTI). Priya Varadarajan, Senior Trade and Investment Adviser, British Deputy High Commission, revealed that they were able to set up 85 one-to-one meetings as part of the BioPartnering initiative, and the companies had got good business leads. Around one hundred young researchers presented their work in the Poster Session, while the Entrepreneurship Day and Bio-IP Zone that were designed to encourage and support young entrepreneurs were new introductions at this year’s Bangalore Bio.