Encouraging pharmaceutical innovations for India’s health needs 


The pandemic has put a spotlight on the Indian pharma industry, propelling rapid transformation. The sector has historically specialized in generics, but the last few years have demonstrated a growing focus on innovation, from R&D investments to innovations spanning therapy areas. Today, India needs these innovations more than ever. The value of such therapeutics is evident from the demand for treatments to address the pandemic and its aftermath, including other disease burdens lying in wait. India’s proven ability in producing affordable medicines is a boon nationally and globally, but so is its growing ability to innovate. This underscores the pressing need for a cohesive ecosystem that spurs innovation, driven by funding, supply chain logistics, skill development and a conducive policy environment. 

As per the Indian Economic Survey 2021, the pharmaceutical industry is currently valued at $41.7 billion and likely to reach $120-130 billion by 2030. To foster growth, the industry can harness its manufacturing strengths to pursue opportunities across newer product classes including biosimilars, gene therapy and specialty drugs. This advances the development of novel or enhanced treatments that further enhance safety and efficacy, are better suited to particular patient profiles and improve patient compliance. Such growth can also generate employment through the need for a skilled workforce of researchers, analysts and technicians in disruptive innovation. Over time, this can augment India’s status at the forefront of large-scale development of innovative solutions.  

Most people think of innovation as new molecules or treatments. These are indeed important and even life-saving, but an equally important and unrecognized part of pharmaceutical innovation is incremental. Such innovation comprises a series of incremental advances, generating different dosage or delivery options, new formulations, uses or physiological interactions of existing compounds, and enhanced properties of known medicines, including safety and efficacy. This results in improved quality of drug products, enabling patient centricity. Incremental innovations can be particularly important for emerging countries, as it improves efficacy of existing medicines, creates competitive advantage, thus making products more affordable. This is of significance in India because of its distinct disease pattern, reimbursement systems and investments in R&D. Currently, India spends only 0.7% of its GDP on R&D.

To build a stronger base for innovation, increasing private and public R&D expenditure is critical. India ranked in the Top 50 innovative countries for the first time in 2020 as per the Global Innovation Index, but further R&D expenditure has great potential to yield returns. The Government’s plan to increase public health spending to 2.5% of the country’s GDP by 2025 is highly anticipated, with the 135% one-year increase in the latest budget allocation to the healthcare sector a welcome step, especially given the dedicated pillar on Innovation and R&D. Such measures give confidence and will incentivize greater investments to promote the development of high-tech products, emerging therapies and in-vitro diagnostics in India. 

Along with public funding, private funding commitment especially from larger organizations, is vital. Looking ahead, the restoration of 200% weighted tax deduction for encouraging in-house R&D could boost research in drug manufacturing. This should also cover spend on improving existing infrastructure, creating additional R&D centers, strengthening supply chains of critical materials, incentivizing domestic pharma production and encouraging start-ups – all of which encourage private players to invest in R&D. During the pandemic, the government and private industry had an unprecedented level of collaboration, enabling timely approvals and continuity of manufacturing, thereby ensuring uninterrupted supply of medicines. Such collaboration, within a conducive policy environment marked by clear regulatory mechanisms, will ensure a streamlined system that supports better healthcare delivery and gives further impetus to Indian innovation. Collaborations between industry and academia can also be leveraged to bridge gaps in talent, thus contributing to the development of skilled workforces. 

A government-led push to propel data-driven innovation can give the sector a much-needed boost. Data-driven technologies help researchers understand local health needs, which prompts more customized incremental innovations. Creating a standardized digital health system and adopting electronic medical records can also generate data and inform AI and machine learning. Such cutting-edge technologies have huge potential to accelerate drug development and reduce time taken for innovative treatments to reach patients. With the support of the government in creating a comprehensive health ecosystem through investments in resources, upskilling and technology, as well as conducive policies and incentives, pharmaceutical companies can introduce pioneering and accessible innovations. India can thus cement its position as the preferred global destination for innovation, development and manufacturing of affordable medicines. 

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Views expressed above are the author’s own.

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Views expressed above are the author’s own.

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