Almost all biopharmaceutical companies in India have had some form of government assistance in recent years such as public loan assistance enjoyed by many small biotech companies and Biocon's government-sanctioned Special Economic Zone (SEZ) in Bangalore, which will confer huge tax breaks on the company through 2015.1
India has never taken a laissez faire approach to its economy. This attitude is a legacy of the anti-colonial movement and the polarizing influence of the Cold War, in which socialism was seen as the most viable option to exploitative Western capitalism. The Indian National Congress, the party that dominated Indian politics for decades after independence, was essentially a socialist party. Even now, two of the other five national parties describe themselves as communist, and Indian economic policies continue to be organized according to old-fashioned, Russian-style five-year plans.After the mid-1980s' decline of the Soviet empire, the West enjoyed an economic boom, and India's export markets expanded rapidly. The country began to outgrow its anti-Western sentiments, focusing instead on becoming a respected and powerful participant in the global economy.
At the time, the successes of American companies like Genentech and the advent of technologies like the polymerase chain reaction (PCR) were fostering the biotechnology revolution. India, therefore, decided to make biotechnology one of its priorities for industrial development, and in 1986, the Department of Biotechnology (DBT) was formed under the Ministry for Science and Technology.
FILLING THE TALENT POOL
Because product patents were not legal in India from 1972 until 2005, India's pharmaceutical industry based itself on reverse-engineering Western drugs and patenting new manufacturing processes. Although the pharmaceutical industry developed, biotechnology was still considered new and difficult, and Indian drug makers focused on synthetic chemistry rather than biological processes. By 2005, when product patents became legal again under the Patents (Amendment) Act, India was producing far more qualified graduates in chemistry than in biology.2 Moreover, most Indian biology graduates were doing their postdoctoral work in the West and ultimately emigrating there.3
The relative scarcity of qualified Indian graduates in biotech-related disciplines is now seen as a major limiting factor in the development of India's biotech industry. The DBT is trying to remedy the situation with initiatives that include:4