Within our tour of India, we had the chance to interview Dr. Panchapagesa Murali who is leading the indian association of Biotechnology led entreprises. A great way to get a deep look into the indian Biotech ecosystem.
Are the venture capitalists and financial institutions equally willing to invest in biotech startups as compared to other fields?
Certainly yes. However India is a unique place where they have a number of choices from IT to real estate and hence there is a lot of competition for the same money. Also most VC’s say they are not very familiar with Biotech space. Because of this the VC universe is a bit finite in India.
Based on human resources statistics and retrospective study, how much do you think the Biotech industry has evolved in India?
This is a very difficult question because it depends on the inclusion and exclusion criteria. For example take the vaccine sector. Every second child in the world is vaccinated from a product of India. The critical mass of biotech professionals have accomplished this. However for the industry to grow in a number of areas like Synthetic biology, environment etc there are still several initiatives needed to build a critical mass of resource persons. I think the Skill development council has taken this initiative and should yield dividends in a few a years.
However, there are a number of government initiatives and programs being run for the HE upgrading specifically for freshers. Also, there are govt schemes, wherein the institutions are strengthened and equipped for upgrading the biotech education & training. India is currently working with a more targeted approach, towards creation of a skilled biotech force.
Roughly, how many years do you project for Indian Biotechnological industry would need to match shoulders with International Standards?
Our Estimate is the Industry will be around the USD 100 billion around 2025. This still does not give leadership. The pace has to be sustained by a combination of productive increased R & D spend by both private and governmental institutions.
Do you think the Indian Education System (Biotech) is on par with the international levels of education?
Indian education system is now at the cross roads. There are good and bad parts to the system which is now being debated. Some are being addressed and fixed and some needs time. There are world class institutions like IISC, IGIB, IITs, UAS, ICAR but we need more of them. Private Institutions are investing and becoming world class, but it takes a few decades for them to be internationally recognized. My personal feeling is we should have started the transformation much earlier. Either there was lack of political will or lack of vision. We are still playing catch up. Hopefully if there is no hiccups we should be there in a decade I guess.
Applications of biotechnology have a wide range. It covers the development of vaccines, to pollution cleaning bacteria, biodegradable plastics colored cotton, herbicide and pest resistant crops, and nutritionally enhanced crops. Isn’t it possible to draw a line between permissible and impermissible applications of biotechnology?
Well I think that is not the line I will take. It is important that any modern tool has to deliver on its promise and that it should do no other harm or changes to end user or environment. Once this is established by a regulatory system we should continue to use it for the betterment of the community. However this debate is not driven now by evidence alone. There is a lot of fear mongering and innocent people are quite gullible when they are fed with misinformation. There must be political will to move on with the use of modern technology. We cant run a way.
What is your opinion on a Labiotech tour India project which makes an informative documentary on India’s biotech scenario?
I think it is a good move. A lot of information is not collated and most times information falls between two stools, the Centre and the State. More documentaries will help in consolidating a lot of information that has not surfaced. I think this is a good initiative.