The wave of Bio-Tech Firms – A tale of Innovation

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Unlike other industries succumbing to the combined headwinds of covid and inflation, we have seen Bio-Tech firms rising to their all-time high during this period. Weathering the storm, these firms have stood strong in areas of pharmaceuticals, consumer goods, and even tech companies. 

Of course, With several funding rounds and almost an average increase of 45% in venture capital of these firms, growth was inevitable. [1]

But it is quite obvious to ask – What made these firms evolve from a not so business-friendly model to a massive expansion”? 

If I were to explain the growth in one word – I would call it a gamut of resilience.

 I know this phrase seems a little Pollyannaish for the kind of topic we are covering. But, the journey of Bio-Tech firms has firmly epitomized that. 

What was that journey of resilience?

The journey was full of innovation. It was perseverance packed with a solid strategy that allowed expansion and acceleration. 

According to sources, more than 106 Bio-Tech firms reported a lack of funding and were tight on cash. 

How did they manage to strive then? [1]

It was a three-step process that ensued pathbreaking results.

Out of all, the most prominent was, 

Innovation 

Covid 19 is a tsunami that turned the world upside down, infecting more than 125 million people worldwide. But, inventors were persistent through inventions of vaccines, including Moderna, Astra Zeneca, Coavaxin, Covishield, and the list goes on.

Apart from this, what impressed approvers and consumers was the efficacy of these vaccines. With Pfizer standing at 95%, even locally produced Bharat Biotech’s Coavaxin has a 77.6% protection efficacy[2]

But what made them advance such huge steps in a short span of time? 

It was surely a “Do or Die’ situation for the entire world. So it was for Bio-Tech firms. With almost all eyes on them for a hopeful revival in the pandemic, it strengthened the firms to push forward a little more than the normal days. 

 

Umm, what helped them keep up the pace amidst so much pressure?

Well! Maybe they considered this an opportunity to show the world their potential by putting it together – the learnings they have been equipped with for years. 

For vaccines, they were quick enough to create a mimic of the “Covid variant” in the form of a drug. The drug was then combined with mRNA particles to deliver the spike protein to a host immune system, creating an immune response. [3]

Not only for the vaccine, but inventors were equally prompt in other areas, including RT-PCR and ventilation. 

For RT-PCR, they made the best use of real-time polymer chain reactions to detect the infection. For serious patients who required ventilation, drugs like Dexamethasone were quickly recommended. [4]

So, these were not all new inventions but what played out as an immense success was that they promptly buckled up their learnings and ideas in the pressure of fighting the catastrophe. 

 

OK! But what explains an immediate market expansion? 

Well! This question makes sense as the firms were not only cash strapped but also had heavy clinical trials and a gap in salesforce on their way. 

So, how did they tackle that? 

By, 

Tackling a major problem – Underinvestment 

Earlier, the Industry has always been underestimated while drawing comparisons between the field of medicine and tech. But, the firms nailed the game of creating a perfect combination of Medicine and Tech to meet modern needs. 

With perpetual inventions in vaccines, RT-PCR, etc., they attracted a huge pool of investors who once shied away from considering the field as an attractive market.

ETF, which tracks the Bio-Tech Industry’s progress, reported a surge of 62% over the last year. [5]

Massive! I know it is. 

The fact that investors looked at this Industry as a hot market addressing the urgent needs of covid helped tackle a major problem of the Industry – Underinvestment. 

Inventors were then allowed to establish their independent firms and research space and enter the race of inventions at an unwavering momentum. It explains the rise of Biotech startups during covid. Serum Institute of India and Zydus Cadila were some of the many successful firms. [6]

That’s all?

Wouldn’t it be too much for them to deal with regulatory and patency challenges independently?

 

Of course, it would be, but they had, 

The government Support – 

Without government support, it wouldn’t have been possible for the Indian Bio-Tech Industry to hold 3% of the global market share. [7]

We know a major kickstart in the Industry couldn’t just be done by a handful of startups supported through a solid investment. 

So, how did the government make it look so easy and quick?

I know, those quick vaccine registrations, shot in a blink, and those hassle-free certificates download! It all looked seamless. Isn’t it? 

So much so that we even selfied vaccination as a victory shot. 

But have you ever wondered how much effort went into putting these together that too, in such a short period? 

 

1. The Industry received a kickstart from the Union Budget 2021-2022 itself – the government outlaid 1660 crore for Bio-Tech R&D. This was not it. The government also outlined major support for the research laboratories as a part of the Union Budget. 

2. DBT and other Bio-Tech initiatives helped set up Bio-Tech parks and expedite vaccine development through stimulus packages to ensure vaccine candidates are brought closer to the license and market. 

3. Clinical Trials were enabled through an improved regulatory landscape by the union ministry for health and welfare – helping around 12 institutes for the clinical trials[8]

4. Seed Funding in Startups was launched to provide capital support for startups – acting as a bridge between innovation and investment. 

5. International Incubators were set up with the mission of helping 23 startups in receiving global incubation[9]

 

Hmm, these were indeed some amazing initiatives but,

wouldn’t the expansion of Bio-Tech reduce once covid subsides

Much like the ed-techs overvalued during covid but phasing out soon after. 

Hmm, I agree that Bio-Tech experienced what we call a Halo Effect during covid – where the catastrophe highlighted the immediate importance of the Industry. 

But what if I told you that the Industry could manage to thrive even after the covid subsides? 

It is very much possible as, 

Major breakthroughs are on the way

Increased interests in Biotechnology propelled by covid19 did put a lot of capital into the sector. 

But, can the same level of interest be sustained even after the covid wanes.  

This big question has an immensely positive answer. Let us see how. 

An industry that received worldwide attention during covid has a lot to prove even after the pandemic. With many areas to explore, there are many battles to be won. 

1. CRISPR and Gene Editing 

Around 350 million people live in this world with rare disorders, and 80% of them are genetic. [10]

Gene editing in this area can be a major revolution to decrease the incidence of these diseases and provide parents with the autonomy to stop disease advancement in their offspring. 

How? 

Well! Gene editing through “genome sequencing” can reverse genetic disease by altering the protein structure, making the changes irreversible, and providing a complete cure to rare diseases. 

Gene editing also comes up with alternatives such as gene therapy and CRISPR, which is relatively affordable and aims at only changing the target tissue and not every cell. 

All three have a huge market – both commercial and social. 

2.AI based disease 

detection – By enabling an interface between the computer and biological systems, we can generate a lot of data about the progression of any disease. We have been deploying those interfaces for years to detect cancers, infection, and advancement of many other diseases. 

But what if I told you that now you don’t have to feel the blue of pouring your blood out in syringes to receive an accurate diagnosis. 

 

Well! That should be called a revolution. Isn’t it? 

Jokes apart, The current laboratory process of detecting blood samples is tedious as it involves manual cell count – resulting in errors. 

An automated procedure allows technologists to magnify cells for disease detection with the help of AI. Possibilities like these open up many collaboration opportunities for Bio-Tech in the ever-increasing AI market. [11]

It can be furthered to produce groundbreaking results in areas of, 

3. RNA therapy and detection of Monogenic diseases – 

This term is not new but has already been deployed in vaccine development. It is one of the most effective ways to inject genetic material directly into protein – a process that can treat various diseases. [12]

Even Monogenic diseases have greater chances of getting cured from the process as RNA-based treatment involves direct touch with the target cell. 

Though these developments may seem a far outcry, research in this regard has already started happening – Countries like Singapore are leading the race with AI-powered software doubled blade. 

I am desperate to know India’s progress.

India, too, is in the race, but there are hurdles. 

What are they? 

Let us discuss the risk factors. 

Count yourself lucky if you didn’t experience the financial setback of hoarding medicines and other covid essentials. 

Despite all the initiatives and government intervention, we saw a surge in medicine prices. 

But why? 

Wasn’t the pharma industry growing exponentially, and they experienced a halo effect in covid? 

Yes, they were growing, and that was an added advantage – knowing that the customers weathered by the storm of covid would end up paying even a higher price even if it required putting in all our savings. 

Isn’t this unethical? 

It is. And that is what we are discussing right now. However, the risk factors are not related to hoarding. It was just to understand how the Industry may work at times. 

So what are the risk factors in the cases of gene editing or RNA development? 

There are various risks ranging from lack of consent to irreversible changes. Let us discuss. 

1. Social Inequality 

Gene editing is a process that alters the protein structure of a cell through genome sequencing. But, such an intricate process requires a lot of resources and is often expensive. [13]

It has the possibility of bringing about social inequality with one section of the society capable of curing the rare disease, and the poor will be left stranded on the edges. 

The story doesn’t end here. But, once gene editing becomes mainstream, it will promote an inherent bias and intolerance towards a certain section of society (disabled with a disease). 

We know how Indian Parents want their kids to be. Perfect. Smart. Intelligent. Who ticks in every box. 

And there is no end to it. Without regulation, it can become a dangerous weapon one has no control over. 

2. Irreversible Changes 

Gene editing requires a complicated process wherein we target protein that has an irreversible impact on the body. So, even a 0.1% error will magnify over time, significantly impacting the body. 

What about the grievance redressal, then? Who will take responsibility? 

On top of it, in these cases, there is mostly a lack of consent as it involves patients at an early age. So, what if the person would still have wanted to go on with their disability? 

All these questions need a robust response through proper regulation and more advancement before mainstreaming these innovations. 

What is the way forward?

What we should be bothered about now is Bio-Tech’s sustenance after covid. According to experts, there are two areas the Industry can focus on; Research and right commercialization. With increasing innovation, they will also need proper regulation to bring about social acceptance. 

But, most of it will depend upon their momentum. Covid-19 acted as a catalyst to expediting the Industry’s growth.

But will they advance at the same rate as they did under catastrophic pressure? Will the governments again be generous with seed funding and incubation? Will they be able to sustain their consumers through perpetual innovation? 

We can only wait to get an answer to these questions. It will depend a lot on how things play out post covid.

Till then, Let us cheer from the sidelines and hope for the best for our hot market – Bio-Tech. 

 

 

 

 

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She is a National level Debater with many accolades and as an aspiring journalist, she aims to present and document content in a well rounded and constructive manner.

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