Time to build Indian Medtech industry to global reckoning

Bio Spectrum|May 2020

Time to build Indian Medtech industry to global reckoning
India has built amazing infrastructure of science especially interdisciplinary and translational aspects of biology in the last 15 years despite history of low level of investments both in R&D (0.8 per cent of the GDP) as well as healthcare (1.3 per cent of the GDP). This needs to change not just as a stopgap measure but greater investment, consistently over a longerrange horizon, is important. And there is need to leverage the strengths and find strategic responses to the gaps in a mission mode.

Over the last decade there has been a major push to develop homegrown medtech product startups in healthcare and other areas of biotech. Several agencies notably Department of Science & Technology (DST), Department of Biotechnology- Biotechnology Industry Research Assistance Council (DBT-BIRAC), Millennium Alliance, Indo-U.S. Science and Technology Forum (IUSSTF), Atal Innovation Mission (AIM)-Niti Aayog and others have contributed to injecting funding and other support mechanisms to build 3000- 4000 biotech/medtechstartups as well as 200 S&T incubators in the country.

This arguably is a national portfolio that has been built through taxpayer's money and painstaking efforts of various stakeholders, most notably the leadership shown by incubators. The incubators housing them are analogous to an “asset house”.

The innovation community has responded with a can-do attitude and have scrambled to kick start COVID-19 focused solutions. The Principal Scientific Adviser’s (PSA) Office has constituted several task forces that are co-ordinating different aspects of the response with speed and precision.

COVID-19 Funding: Fast decisions

Most Science & Technology arms of the Government of India have launched COVID-19 specific funding calls, be it CAWACH by DST, Council of Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR) labs, DBT-BIRAC (a special COVID-19 call), Technology Development Board (TDB) and Invest India as well as big incubators such as IKP Knowledge Park (IKP), Venture Center, SINE-IIT Bombay, Centre for Cellular and Molecular Platforms (C-CAMP), SIIC- IIT Kanpur, AIC-CCMB and FITT-IIT Delhi amongst others.

Incubators such as IKP and Venture Center launched their COVID-19 action plan to not just provide funding but also pro-actively provide support in connecting startups with mature products to scale them by connecting them to manufacturers, procurement agencies and hospitals that are at the forefront of the frontline of care.

Another feature noticeable in the strategy is rapid turnaround time for decisions. For example, in IKP’s COVID fund from the launch of call to decision to fund a cohort (I-CO fund selected 11 relevant products) was a mere 10 working days and similarly Venture Center’s NIDHI Prayas call for COVID-19 had extremely fast turnaround times. Additionally, these incubators have resourced dedicated staff to push and co-ordinate in accelerating the support extended to selected startups.

Venture Center is driving the Drug Repurposing Taskforce (under the aegis of PSA’s Office) and has looked at different aspects of 19 drugs that can then inform about strategies for India to conduct clinical trials for re-purposed drugs.

Startups ramping up product manufacturing

Medtech startups have responded with amazing speed and have either strategized to ramp up manufacturing of their existing products, build new products such as testing kits or vaccines or re-orient their product platforms to build COVID-19 related products. Pune based MyLab was able to build a RT-PCR diagnostics kit for COVID-19 that received certification from Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR) and approval from Drugs Controller General of India in a quick turnaround time.

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May 2020