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Budget 2020: Current health concerns warrant greater budgetary backing for innovation and research

Kiran Mazumdar-Shaw     January 31, 2020

There is much to hope for from this Budget, especially for the Indian healthcare sector. Take the current coronavirus scare. I hope this gets viewed as a reminder to boost research efforts in healthcare and to back science and technology to find newer solutions to growing health concerns, an area where India is still under invested. We for instance, need to at least double the spend on research.  The R&D spend should be doubled from 0.8 per cent of GDP to 1.6 per cent of GDP over 5 years at Rs 10,000 crore to Rs 12,000 crore per annum including a Rs 5,000 crore allocation of DST, CSIR, DBT, grants towards chairs, post docs and infrastructure to 10 select research institutes per year.

For instance, the Budget could allocate these funds among 10 reputed academic research institutions and much like the institutes of eminence that the government has created, it could now back 10 research institutions so they can upgrade their infrastructure and attract best researchers and in the process create institutions of research excellence.

FULL COVERAGE: Union Budget 2020

I am hoping that the coronavirus scare triggers a greater budgetary allocation for genomics, viral repository creation and to back the whole area of pharmaceutical research. In fact, the Budget could earmark Rs 1,000 crore for creating the repositories - both microbial and viral - and for genomic libraries especially in cancer and virology. We need greater investment in India to strengthen its biological sciences, and in particular microbial sciences. This is crucial because we are in times when both non-communicable diseases (like cancer and diabetes) and infectious diseases (caused by new viruses) are only going to rise because of a combination of factors at play - from increase in aging population, changing lifestyles, rising pollution impacting the environment to increased levels carcinogens and virusus mutating. Therefore, it is only imperative that there is greater focus on the whole ambit of drug innovation, vaccine development, diagnostics, med tech , genomics and in creating microbial and viral repositories. All of it, could not only greatly enhance our state of preparedness but also improve our response time to deal with emergencies.

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The Prime Minister at the last Indian Science Congress shared the intent of the government to see India becoming a $100 billion bio-manufacturing hub by 2024. While it may be seen as an aspirational goal at the moment, even if we are able to double the current strengths in this space, it would be good. This is needed because of two major reasons: First, the antibiotic production has largely moved to China and we could try and get it back to India. Second, manufacture of drug intermediates has also moved to China and since Indian pharma is dependent on it, it is time to get it back to India. Plus, given the growing need for both biosimilars and generics, there is enough scope still available for pharmaceutical manufacturing to expand and set up new capacities. But then, these are all very capital intensive. So, if the government wants to see India realise its potential of $100 billion bio-manufacturing hub then there will be need for enablers like availability of low-cost capital through interest subsidies and provisions for tax holidays for manufacturing, which in turn could incentivise greater investments into this hugely export-oriented opportunity.

Other than these, infrastructure is another area where I do hope there is focus in the Budget. One way in which in the government could address the funding needs of this crucial sector is by channelising the resources from divesting in public sector undertakings towards infrastructure.

(Kiran Mazumdar-Shaw is the Founder, Chairperson and Managing Director of Biocon.)

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