Phytopharmaceuticals are herbal medicines that rely on one or more plant components or active elements for their effectiveness. They've been used to treat ailments since the dawn of time across cultures, especially in India, with several medical treatments created from plants or parts of plants still relying on this ancient knowledge. 

Examples of common phytopharmaceuticals include resveratrol, omega-3 fatty acid, p Lutein, phytoestrogens, and terpenoids. These differ from Ayurvedic, Siddha or Unani (ASU) therapies, as phytopharmaceuticals, as defined under the Drugs and Cosmetics Act, 1940, must include a purified and standardized fraction with a defined minimum of four bio-active or phytochemical compounds of an extract of a medicinal plant or its part, for internal or external use of human beings or animals for diagnosis, treatment, mitigation or prevention of any disease or disorder. These ASU therapies fall under the Ministry of AYUSH, whereas phytopharmaceuticals are regulated by the Central Drugs Standards Control Organization (CDSCO).

India, due to both its history of herbal remedies and incredible biodiversity, offers a thriving market for phytopharmaceuticals. The global market for herbal medicines is projected to reach $ 111 Bn by 2023, in which, India is well-positioned to occupy a strong market share. The Indian herbal remedy market is currently valued at Rs. 5,000 crore and showcases an annual growth of about 14%, driven by both rising domestic and export demand, particularly since the onset of COVID-19, which has fueled a steady increase in demand for traditional medicines in developed countries as well. Moreover, India is one of the only countries that has phytopharmaceutical drugs as a distinct category in its Drugs and Cosmetics Act, 1940 & Rules 1945 , which has helped to dispel ambiguities, spurring safer and higher quality products, which in turn further increases demand. The sector is also supported by various government initiatives which provide a fillip to the sector, across both R&D and manufacturing. 

The Council of Scientific & Industrial Research, a government body dedicated to R&D, has launched a Phytopharmaceuticals Mission, running since 2018. The mission aims to improve the availability (through cultivation) of such medicinal plants which are in high demand by global and domestic industry. The mission aims to prevent promote cultivation, conservation and discovery of medicinal plants through identifying the elite germplasm and conserving it by cultivation and in a gene bank, while supporting R&D through collaborating CSIR laboratories working in the area of medicinal plants with other public and private enterprises to advance technologies. 

Additionally, providing further impetus, Department of Biotechnology has launched a ‘Phytopharmaceutical Mission in the North East Region’. As the North East Region (NER) is highly rich in plant, animal and microbial resources (one of the 12 biodiversity rich zones globally), this mission is dedicated to promoting the cultivation and conservation of medicinal plants in North East states, to ensure availability of authentic and quality botanical raw material for local manufacturers, such that they can become global leaders in production and export of phytopharmaceuticals .  

Most recently, the Department of Pharmaceuticals has also launched a Production Linked Incentive Scheme 2.0, with an outlay of Rs 15,000 Crore (~$ 2 Bn), across a huge range of product categories, including phytopharmaceuticals, enabling fiscal incentives to be awarded to investors interested in this fast-emerging sector.  

Phytopharmaceuticals are a promising new area within the pharmaceuticals industry set to experience greater attention both from domestic and foreign players. In India, consumers have already been displaying a long-standing demand for ayurvedic and herbal remedies, however now are shifting towards demanding more evidence-based approach remedies. This is where phytopharmaceuticals are well-positioned to cater to this demand and offers tremendous growth potential. 

This article has been authored by Ritam Chowdhury.

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