29 July, 2021

Biotech: The Third Wave

India is on the threshold of the third technological revolution—after the industrial and the IT booms—as old-style ventures romance their biotech ambitions

Atul Loke
Biotech: The Third Wave
Medchal, a sleepy, sylvan backwater 40 km from Hyderabad, is the sort of idyll often romanticised on celluloid. But Medchal also hides a surreal sophistication—a state-of-the-art lab where white-robed scientists are busy tweaking genes to fashion life-saving drugs.

It's here that Koduru Ishwari Varaprasad, 52, achieved with panache what bigpharma couldn't. In 1997, he and his argonauts created India's first genetically-engineered (GE) hepatitis B vaccine: Shantha Biotech's Shanvac B. It captured 40 per cent of the market and unleashed a price war that four years and more competitors later has resulted in the vaccine being available for Rs 50 per dose!

Shanvac was the first stone that dropped into India's placid biotech waters, setting off ripples that are now waves. Start-ups are mushrooming, with venture funds from banks, financiers and governments. The department of biotechnology (DBT) has announced an ambitious 10-year vision—vaccines for cholera, malaria and TB, biofertilisers, biopesticides, transgenic crops, gene therapy trials against cancer. State...

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