India to award biotech solutions in health and farming

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[NEW DELHI] Research breakthroughs around family and child health, agriculture, food and nutrition would soon be awarded by India’s Biotechnology Industry Research Assistance Council (BIRAC) with a view to getting products to the application stage faster.

At the first foundation day of BIRAC, last month (20 March), India’s science and technology minister S. Jaipal Reddy announced that the council would soon be launching a ‘grand challenges’ programme in focus areas with partners like the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.

In 2012, India’s Department of Biotechnology (DBT), under which BIRAC falls, signed an agreement with the Gates Foundation to invest US$ 25 million each, over five years, in family and child health and nutrition.

"We are trying to identify the necessities of industry in this sector. We plan to launch the awards within six months," Renu Swarup, BIRAC director, told SciDev.Net

The foundation day brought together a large number of entrepreneurs who discussed bottlenecks in achieving the stated target of making the Indian biotechnology industry worth US$ 100 million by 2025.

Entrepreneurs at the meet identified lack of policies and regulations for R&D as being among reasons for the relatively slow development of the biotech industry in India.


  • Plan to support biotech breakthroughs to the market stage
  • Focus areas include family health, agriculture and nutrition
  • Lack of clear biotech policies is presently hurting entrepreneurship 

"The policy environment should be such that it encourages R&D entrepreneurship," said K.V. Subramaniam, president and chief executive officer at Reliance Life Sciences.

Against increasing numbers of students studying biotechnology at the master’s and doctorate levels, there were few opportunities in the field and this may work against attracting talent to the field, entrepreneurs observed.

"Advertisements for PhD positions always attract large numbers of applications from unemployed biotech graduates and this alarms me," observed Virender Chauhan, director of the International Centre for Genetic Engineering and Biotechnology in New Delhi. 

"At present it takes an infinitely long time to develop a product and bring it to the market because of the mechanisms and scrutiny systems in place," said Usha Zehr, chief technology officer at the Maharashtra Hybrid Seed Company.

Public-private partnerships that could boost research, product development and delivery were not working in India, entrepreneurs observed.

"There is a mismatch between the objectives of public and private sector organisations and a lack of understanding of each other’s roles," said Arvind Kapur, chief executive officer of Rasi Seeds, Tamil Nadu.

Deepak Pental, former vice-chancellor of the Delhi University, suggested that BIRAC involve industry while making decisions on areas in focus.