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Editorial Notes

[Editorial Notes] Biotechnology sector in India: Prospects & Challenges

Unlike IT, it would be a mistake to look at the biotechnology sector through the lens of employment generation only.
By IASToppers
September 27, 2019

Contents

  • Introduction
  • Causes of less development of biotechnology sector
  • Biotech sector in China
  • Suggestions
  • How can Entrepreneur culture in Biotech sector can be enhanced?
  • Conclusion

Biotechnology sector in India: Prospects & Challenges

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Introduction

  • India is among the first countries to set up a specialised agency (Department of Biotechnology) for the development of research and human resources in the biotechnology sector in 1986.

biotechnology-sector-in-1986-IASToppersHowever, after three decades later, it is imperative to ask whether the biotechnology sector lived up to its promise.

  • To check whether biotechnology has created enough jobs, one needs to go beyond the traditional indicators such as the numbers of institutions formed, students and scientists trained, and the number of patents filed to judge the sector’s performance.

Causes of less development of biotechnology sector

  • Modern biotechnological research is expensive and requires a highly trained and skilled workforce.
  • So far, in India, most of the high-quality research output has come from very few of institutions with better scientific infrastructure. The rest of the institutions publishes large number of low quality research publications.

Creation of human resources and jobs in the biotechnology

In India, unlike the IT sector, low wages of scientists and a sizeable institutional research base have not helped create more jobs in biotechnology.

biotechnology-research-pathway-IASToppers

  • Biotechnology research often requires access to laboratories with high-end scientific infrastructure, the supply of expensive chemicals with minimum shipping time between the supplier and the user.
  • It also requires disciplined work culture and documentation practice due to regulatory and intellectual property filing requirement.
  • Additionally, biotechnology products and solutions often require ethical and regulatory clearance, making the process long, expensive and cumbersome.
  • As the nature of the work in the biotechnology sector is specialised, most jobs are filled with experienced and skilled scientists leaving the demand for young and inexperienced ones low.

Biotech sector in China

  • Unlike India, China has many more labs with the best of scientific infrastructure.
  • Chinese students and scientists outnumber Indians nearly 5:1 in most American universities in the life sciences/biology-related disciplines.
  • A booming economy and a higher science budget coupled with a flexible hiring system have made Chinese universities and research labs attract many overseas Chinese scientists.

Suggestions

  • Over the years, the focus of research has shifted from fundamental to applied research. Hence, India can reap the fruits of applied research only when it starts investing in basic research without looking at immediate financial benefits.
  • Compared to the developed economies (the United States), biotechnology research in India is mainly funded by the public exchequer. Hence, government should encourage the private sector to invest substantially in applied research.
  • Government needs to make the process of hiring in biotech universities and national labs simpler and flexible to attract the bright overseas Indian scientists.

How can Entrepreneur culture in Biotech sector can be enhanced?

  • Initiatives through the Biotechnology Industry Research Assistance Council (BIRAC) of the Department of Biotechnology to support the innovation ecosystems have helped startup companies make nearly 50 biotechnology-related products that are in the market today.

Industry-Research-Assistance-Council-(BIRAC)-IASToppers Biotechnology sector in India: Prospects & Challenges

  • However, the culture of institutions and scientists to be entrepreneurial will take time as it requires a flexible policy in the institutes to allow scientists incubate startup companies in their labs while retaining their positions.
  • The government should let scientists from research institutions take unpaid leave to join the industry for a fixed period.
  • Similarly, the government should relax rules to appoint researchers from industry in faculty positions with the freedom to teach, participate, and take students. This will result in much-required communication and understanding of the problems at both ends.

Conclusion

  • The future of biotechnology is bright in India. However, the sector is not going to displace the IT sector anytime soon in employment generation.
  • Discoveries in biotechnology may help solve some problems such as cleaning rivers, producing life-saving drugs, feeding growing population with nutritious food etc. Therefore, it will be a mistake to look at the biotechnology sector through the lens of employment generation only.
  • Without a sustained effort in encouraging and promoting science-driven innovation in academic institutions, and a robust academia-industry collaboration, biotechnology-led innovation will not aid the nation’s economic growth.
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Editorial Notes Mains 2020
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