Biotech Research Body Expected to Boost Innovation

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The Biotechnology Industry Research Assistance Council (BIRAC), which got the Union Cabinet’s approval in November 2011, is gearing up to be fully operational by the next financial year.

"BIRAC, which is now known as BIRAP (Biotechnology Industry Research Assistance Programme), is in the pilot stage in Delhi. It is expected to be fully operational by the next financial year," S R Rao, adviser to the department of biotechnology (DBT), told Business Standard.

BIRAC, a not-for-profit Section 25 company, was set up as a separate body by the DBT to enhance the strategic research and innovation capacity of biotech companies – especially SMEs – in India. The council will operate with an initial outlay of Rs 70 crore for two years, Rao said.

It will serve as a single window for the emerging biotech industry. It will help in technology management, support services such as IP facilitation, legal matters and contracts, clinical trail facilitation, mentoring and capacity building, and in creating affordable products and services.

Rao said the $4 billion biotechnology market in India was growing at 21 per cent year-on-year. The ecosystem consists of 20-30 large companies and more than 300 SMEs.

"SMEs in biotech are doing well in R&D and product development. Some SMEs, strong in innovation and R&D, have even been acquired by large companies. For example, the Bangalore-based product development company Metahelix Life Sciences was acquired by Rallis India, a subsidiary of Tata Chemicals, in 2010,” Rao said.

Funding for the biotech sector has increased substantially over the years, from Rs 2,000 crore in the 10th Five Year Plan to Rs 6,300 crore in the 11th Plan.

"The R&D budget in science and technology is expected to be doubled in the 12th Plan to two per cent of the gross domestic product (GDP),” he said. The government has taken initiatives such as the Small Business Innovation Business Research Initiative (SBIRI) – where the government allows grants of up to Rs 50 lakh and provides loans at a subsidised rate – and the Biotechnology Industry Partnership Programme (BIPP) to support SMEs. Over 100 companies and 50 projects have been funded under the SBIRI and BIPP respectively, Rao said.


The Hindu Business Line, March 20, 2012