Indian pharmaceutical companies are making their first forays in the biotechnology arena, helping the market expand from a standing start at the beginning of the decade to reach a value of $2bn in 2006-7, according to a recent report from KPMG.
Around 70 per cent of that activity is in biopharmaceuticals, helped by the strength of the classical pharmaceutical sector in India, and all told biotech is tipped to grow to around $5bn in 2010.
At the moment the biopharma industry in India is accounted for largely by research, development and production of biosimilars or follow-on biologics – copies of established biologic drugs.
“Whilst this is good for capability building especially at commercial scale, it does not create an innovation base,” according to Dr Kiran Mazumdar Shaw, chairman and managing director of Biocon Ltd.
He notes in comments quoted in the KPMG report that Indian firms have a huge advantage over their counterparts in western markets because the cost of failure is affordable, so the industry can afford to be somewhat less risk-averse.
At the moment, the country’s drug industry is building product capabilities in biosimilars, particularly in products such as recombinant insulin, GCSF, interferon alpha, erythropoietin, and starting to move into monoclonal antibody (MAb) products and recombinant vaccines.
KPMG cites Glenn Saldanha, CEO and managing director of Glenmark Pharmaceuticals, who is convinced that biopharma is sector that India must tackle if it is to maintain growth in the future.
“We believe that there are significant opportunities in the novel biologics space. Globally, the high potential of biological therapies has been recognised. So it’s a very exciting domain.”
“In the longer term, it is important to acquire relevant skill sets and technologies in order to compete in the space of New Biological Entities and make them a key source of growth for companies.”
The country is already laying down some strong foundations. With around 20,000 people working in the biotechnology sector and six biotech hubs at present, headed by clusters in Hyderabad and Gujarat.
“Besides New Chemical Entity discovery and development, a few [Indian] companies have ventured into New Biological Entity research as well,” says KPMG, pointing to the activities of Glenmark which now has five NBEs in its pipeline.
Although capturing a major share of the European markets and competing with the innovator’s distribution network may pose a challenge for Indian companies, concludes KPMG, they “can explore the partnership models such as joint product development and joint marketing to build a distinguished presence in this segment.”