By Kiran Mazumdar Shaw

It is a harsh reminder of the interconnectedness of the global economy that a microscopic yet lethal virus can bring it to its knees. The IMF has declared a global recession. The global manufacturing sector has suffered its worst contraction since the 2009 recession. Stock markets worldwide are in the red. Central bank governors are scrambling to find policy antidotes. The world is bracing for a wave of bankruptcies and layoffs that can widen social and economic divisions, with consequences for years to come.

Once the medical crisis begins to recede, governments will be looking for ways to shore up their countries’ economies. The approaches they take to stimulate economic growth will have long-lasting effects, so the choice has to be made carefully.

As countries look to give their economies a much-needed stimulus in the aftermath of the COVID-19 outbreak, there is a huge opportunity for India to transform itself into a thriving economy.

We need to resurrect ourselves through economic policies that leverage our prowess in Science & Technology, build self-reliance through import substitution and rapidly expand exports.

Besides protecting against global supply chain disruptions, a sharper focus on large-scale import substitution will help add millions of jobs in the micro, small & medium enterprises (MSME) sector. This will require significant reforms and policy interventions for ensuring timely access to credit, improving ease of doing business and introducing new technology.

The expansion of local manufacturing scale should not just aim at catering to the domestic market. Companies need to be able to tap global markets, for which India needs a strong policy that provides incentives for exports.

In a recent interview, economist and former NITI Aayog vice-chairman Arvind Panagariya has argued for raising India’s share in global exports to at least 4-5%. Even if the global merchandise export pie shrinks to US$15 trillion post the COVID-19 crisis, a 5% share will mean US$750 billion in exports, translating to a little more than 25% of India’s current GDP.

Leverage Science & Technology

India has had experience of turning crisis into opportunity by leveraging its scientific, engineering and software skills. The Y2K scare at the turn of the millennium gave the Indian information technology industry the opportunity to showcase its ability to understand a problem, find a solution, and quickly train people to resolve it.

In response to the COVID-19 crisis, India has an opportunity to build a huge bio-medical sector that is innovative, quality conscious and can be scaled up to meet global demand.

It is true that we have the knowledge and the skill base to rank on par with the world’s greatest scientific powers. However, we lack the confidence that is essential to transform us into a science and technology powerhouse.

To position ourselves among the world’s scientific elite, we must, first and foremost, encourage the scientific community to create and market their intellectual property. Entrepreneurial scientists are crucial components in the march towards scientific superiority, as is evident from the success of countries like the United States and Israel.

Scientific Entrepreneurship Needs a Confidence Vote

Look at how Indian entrepreneurs are harnessing innovation to respond to the COVID-19 pandemic.

A small molecular diagnostics company based out of Pune, Mylab Discovery, was able to develop a relatively cheaper and more efficient test for the novel coronavirus indigenously in a record six weeks. Similarly, Mysuru-based Skanray Technologies has drawn up plans to locally assemble ~100,000 ventilators with support from BEL and Mahindra & Mahindra to meet the expected spike in demand. Syngene, the research services subsidiary of Biocon, is working to develop serological antibody detection tests as well as vaccines against COVID-19.

India has a large number of start-ups that are thinking creatively and using cutting-edge technology to develop world class bio-medical products. Yet, many of them are stuck at the stage of taking ‘ideas’ to ‘proof of concept’. Most fail to scale up operations and achieve commercial success because investors are not ready to take the risk of backing them. Even after managing to raise capital and deliver their product, many innovative start-ups struggle to find early adopters in their home country.

A debilitating lack of self-confidence in home-grown scientific skills forces bio-medical innovators in India to seek Western endorsement and validation. The first question they are asked is whether their product has approval from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration or a CE Mark from the European Union.

If we continue to under-value Indian innovation, we will not be able to scale up our science- and technology-based industries. If we do not repose faith in our own capabilities, no one else will.

Owning the Narrative

Going forward, we will need policies that encourage ‘Innovate in India’, ‘Make in India’ and ‘Buy in India’.

Take for example, antibiotics and active pharmaceutical ingredients (APIs), where the Indian pharma industry was quite self-reliant till around 1990. We ended up ceding our position to China because the incentives that Chinese pharmaceutical companies were receiving from their government were not matched in India.

This is the most opportune time for the Indian government to implement the Katoch Committee recommendations and roll out many of the suggested incentives to build self-sufficiency in APIs.

Need to Act Expeditiously

If India is to address this opportunity, it will have to act expeditiously and the Indian government will have to play an enabling role by creating a suitable physical, financial, legislative and regulatory infrastructure. In addition, the government needs to provide roads and ports that support the capital-intensive needs of the sector, as well as, laws and regulations that support the long gestational timelines for the sector. Other such incentives that are essential to put India at the forefront of bio-medical production should also be provided.

Institutions must be encouraged to coordinate with industry to share resources and skills, which will eventually facilitate better and relevant bio-medical research. A concerted effort by public institutions and private enterprise to cooperate towards advancing scientific research will be the ideal catalyst for India’s emergence as a science and technology leader.

We must also attract venture capitalists with incentives to come forward with funding. The private sector will need to invest in building the necessary manufacturing capacity, provided that the enabling infrastructure is in place.

The success of the bio-medical sector can then be replicated across many other sectors in rebuilding the Indian economy after the COVID-19 threat has passed.



9 thoughts on “Post-COVID-19, India Can Emerge as a Global Bio-Medical Hub

  1. I am wondering with stalwarts like you at the helm and so much of the hocus pocus by the GoI around startup India and startups of all kinds in India over the last decade, why did we need a wakeup call of this magnitude to prod the bull up and run? It is very disheartening to see that most of the initiatives taken by the Govt. of India are very populist and very superficial and almost does lip service to the nations talent and the entrepreneurs. It almost feels like they just want to extend a simple paid holiday to new grads coming out of the top Engg. Schools from India. Plus the GoI are firmly of the belief and hence very busy with the mindset that technology leadership from the west is superior and are always condescending to the likes of Bill Gates, John Chambers, our own Nadella and Pichai and Trumps of the West (US especially) and the neo-capital infusion from the East (did I say China?). However more often those two flag poles are usually always interested in protecting their own interests and capturing the Indian markets further for their parent company back home (Apple, Google, Facebook etc.).

    We need a lot more capital infusion, a lot more encouragement to startups which can deliver impressive results in these kinds of situations. An all round focus on Healthcare Tech and Bio Tech as a dual focus with a hard core focus on Research and Science/Technology capabilities would be the need of the hour. The way the West takes up a platform based approach for medicine delivery or vaccine delivery or a testing delivery like the way Abbott has done, we are missing that kind of platform thinking in both Health Tech as well as Bio Tech in India. What kind of leadership can people like you with vast experience in this Industry provide? How can you influencce the government differently? Can we make the India Academy of Sciences more active and robust and make it the central fulcrum that promotes Science and Scientific Studies? Do we need more hard core Bio-Tech and Health-Care Tech Accelerators that can provide the necessary support and mobilize an entire eco-system to rally around these startups to deliver solutions of high innovation quotient more quickly?

  2. When it comes to farm products and dairy products how a country should never compare price of the products with international market because food must be always produced within the country whatever the cost may be. Self Reliance in food products is always a very big safety for any country. Same way this COVID 19 had exposed many countries shortcomings n it has really made the powerful nations all the arms n ammunition are useless when we have to fight a invisible virus it can thrive on your own body without even you knowing that is the kind of slap which has now opened the eyes, brought the feet down to ground and removed all the great n greatest feelings from mind.

    Mankind has been exposed. To the worst kind of scenario. Nobody had any contingency plans to face this kind of situation is very obvious by the way, the world is handling this crisis.

    India have to work on two aspects It must make its citizens to understand What is good health and how essential it is for every one of them to join in that direction.

    In a society when we aspire to lift the over all standards of living to create a healthy n clean society then it becomes very essential that every member joins whole heartily because it is very essential for them to voluntarily prioritize their spending towards building a long term health plans for families by cultivating good food, physical n mental activities.

    To do this we have to start making some fine necessary adjustment In the all spectrum of society Right from the school going child to house wife to elders.

    Most of the systems rules which we follow are from independent era In those days our country was different which had huge disparity due to the practices followed in the society and geographical n logistic reasons.

    Now post 2000 So many things have changed. Almost now everybody is equal to everyone. The difference between individual is purely due to the personal habits and faiths and beliefs for Which only we have to blame the particular individual as responsible for doing well or not doing well?

    So India if want to grow at a very fast pace First they have to do away all these differences among citizens. There are to be only two things. We can train and coach citizens according to the level of understanding and knowledge but when it comes to taking competitive exams and getting eligible for important jobs only uniform qualifying standards must be applied Because already our country is finding a very big nose dive on finding proper executives who can be a honest sharp minded decision-makers Who also accept responsibilities without hesitation.

    So respected madam the changes you have suggested or very very essential. And due to your extensive knowledge and experience you have suggested essential important changes which are necessary at the top of the pyramid And what I have shared with you here of required from bottom of the pyramid which is citizens of the country and the government must come closer and change our approaches by bringing necessary changes in every citizens minds to achieve our future ambitions.


  3. Kiran, you have very aptly put out the sentiments of a large population of India highlighting a few real issues which are road blocks. However, on people seeking USFDA endorsements on discoveries / products speaks large on the prevailing system in India especially the Business-Politics-Authoities dirty nexus, which by far is non-existent in other Countries. Wherefore is reliable. This will not be changed by the Government.. the change has to be brought about by me and you…

  4. Well said, this is the opportunity for leveraging Science & Technology in partnership mode particularly Public & Private with appropriate policy support. India is considered to be best marketing place by West and also China this need to be changed and this is the time

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