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How is India's healthcare sector pioneering innovation?


With the growth of artificial intelligence, robotics, computer vision and improved hardware for diagnosis and measurement, innovations in pharmaceuticals and biotechnology are at an exciting inflection point globally, with India too riding the wave.

India offers a unique advantage for fostering innovation, given its rich diversity in flora, fauna and genetic diversity. It, therefore, holds immense potential for biotechnology research and manufacturing. India is also emerging as a leading destination for clinical trials, contract research and manufacturing as policy shifts gear for the high-growth momentum.

Initiatives and Regulations

The government support for this sector comes in several forms, including support for biotechnology startups from Biotechnology Industry Research Assistance Council (BIRAC)[1], Accelerating Growth of New India’s Innovations (AGNIi)[2] that helps commercialization of newer innovations, the Atal Innovation Mission[3] to support researchers and the launch of the second phase of the Impacting Research Innovation and Technology (IMPRINT) Fund, which has a grant of INR 1000 crores[4].

This is just to name a few. Several other initiatives have been taken to boost innovation and this has been reflected as India moves up the Global Innovation Index, jumping up from 81st rank in 2015 to 52nd rank in 2019[5]. This is the largest leap by any major economy and makes India the most innovative economy in central and southern Asia, a position it has proudly held since 2011. India is also home to several innovation clusters spread across Bengaluru, Mumbai and New Delhi in the GII Top 100 list[6].

The government is also preparing a toolkit of new rules catering to novel innovations, including the National Guidelines for Gene Therapy Product Development[7], the DNA Technology (Use and Application) Regulation Bill 2019[8] and as well as a draft Biological Data Storage, Access and Sharing Policy of India[9]. Most recently, guidelines for the evaluation of Nano-pharmaceuticals have been released[10]. Most monumentally, the New Drugs and Clinical Trials Rules, 2019 have helped quicken the pace of innovation as deemed approval must be given within 30 working days for indigenous drugs now (and 90 days for drugs developed outside the country) [11].

Recent Indian Innovations

In the last two years alone, India has created some incredible innovations including the development of the world’s thinnest material, made in IIT Gandhinagar[12]. The material is 100,000 times thinner than a sheet of paper and holds huge application potential (for instance, in ultraviolet absorbing films). Similarly, in Manesar, researchers in the National Brain Research Centre (NBRC) unveiled the exact cellular and molecular mechanisms that show how Zika virus causes microencephaly[13], while scientists at the Translational Health Science and Technology Institute, Faridabad recently developed a very quick and sensitive test to detect TB in the sputum[14]. Grassroots innovations like these hold immense potential for the 1.8 billion people affected globally by this pandemic.

Taking a look at a smaller scale but with very large potential, India is also set to launch its first human genome mapping mission in this quarter by mapping the data of 10,000 Indians, opening up huge potential for researchers to understand and treat diseases such as cancer in a much more personalized way using predictive diagnostics and precision medicine[15]. Another avenue for cancer treatment is the rapidly emerging CAR T-cell therapy, a type of immunotherapy where the receptors on these genetically engineered T-cells can identify cancer[16].

It is through cutting-edge technologies like these that India is rapidly moving up in the innovation ladder, with a huge potential for collaboration with different stakeholders, leading to a dynamic Indian innovation ecosystem.