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Cover Story
 
INTERVIEW
“Returns from innovation take a very long time”
Dr. Abhijit Barve, President – R&D, Biocon Ltd. shares how collaborations within the ecosystem can be leveraged to deliver better results
Issue Date - 30/05/2012
 
B&E: Could you cite some innovation ecosystem challenges which Biocon particularly faced during various drug discovery processes?
Dr. Abhijit Barve (AB): Biocon has a state of the art R&D centre, but yet we have faced challenges of not having every sophisticated instrument available that may be required for certain research experiments. In such cases, we have drawn from the external ecosystem and gone ahead with our quest for innovation & were able to tap into resources that were available in the Bangalore area. We have some world-class institutions in the city and we leveraged their services or partnered with them. For Indian companies like us, leveraging what is available in the country and developing competencies internally would be best. And Kiran has been very serious about forging partnerships with a variety of scientific leaders and institutions in the biotech field to place India on the global biotech map.

B&E: How can the stakeholders work towards building an ecosystem for biotech in India?
AB: It’s important to understand that the returns from innovation take a very long time. Even for biosimilars or novel molecules, the gestation period from the time you actually conceive an idea to commercial introduction is a long development cycle. It is a high risk and reward proposition requiring the right mindset supported by large investments. So, unless you have a huge risk appetite, you wouldn’t want to play in this area.

In the Indian biopharma and pharma industry, VCs and PEs don’t want to invest much because of many reasons. First, they perhaps don’t understand the field too well. Second, because they prefer investing in industries that offer secured returns with relatively low risks. Thirdly, there are limited investment opportunities in these sectors, so their basket of investments cannot be diversified and derisked across multiple technologies. Some VCs have invested in our domain. When there are a couple of success stories in terms of ROI, others will follow.

B&E: How can we built a sturdier culture of innovation in the Indian biotech industry?
AB: If you look at US today, most companies where breakthrough research is happening are incubated from research at educational institutions like Harvard, MIT or Berkeley. There is a culture where academics are encouraged and incentivised to monetise the research they are conducting. This includes helping them file patents, grants for drug development and a vibrant tech transfer office that facilitates and licenses innovative technology to industry. Unfortunately, we still don’t have that culture in India. While we have some great work happening at academic institutions, not all of it is relevant for industrial application. Our incentives are still based on the number of publications and grants versus how much value the researchers can add in terms of IP generation or to an organization. So we should bring a paradigm shift to take forward their ideas and innovations, create a business plan around them and commercialize them. Similarly, companies have to learn to deal with failures. There have been prominent examples of pharma companies in India which faced setbacks at innovation and then never got excited about it and decided that it was too risky a game.

 

Steven Philip Warner           

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