Compared to its long history of small molecule manufacturing, India’s biomanufacturing industry is still in its infancy.
There has been some investment in the sector both from home-grown companies such as Kemwell and Biocon, as well as foreign joint ventures but one area that is holding India back is its lack of skilled workers, according to US firm Oncobiologics who penned a biosimilar deal with Indian drugmaker Ipca earlier this week.
“The primary challenge for expansion within the biologics space is the availability of an experienced talent pool,” VP of Business Development Stephen McAndrew told Biopharma-Reporter.com. “Since there are multiple biologics companies in India, the competition to recruit key positions from that talent pool is high.”
The sentiment was mirrored by Biocon with a spokesperson telling us there is currently a wide gap “between the quality of human capital available and the needs of the biotech industry.
“[India’s] academic institutes of learning and research have focused on developing large numbers of qualified personnel but not necessarily with the skills and quality attributes sought by industry to compete globally.”
Therefore there is a need to equip students with both the theoretical skills of bioprocessing along with helping them “specialize in their chosen field of biotechnology through a rigorous, multidisciplinary, project-oriented approach that encompasses practical training on sophisticated laboratory instrumentation enabling them to be industry ready,” Biocon added.
Both Oncobiologics and Biocon told us the deepening of India's talent pool will happen, with McAndrew saying “this issue is likely to dissipate” as “the biologics knowledge and experience expands in India over the next several years.”
Furthermore, he said Oncobiologics, in its joint venture, will be offering specialised biologics training at its R&D site in New Jersey, US for certain Ipca scientific staff as the two firms look to build a biomanufacturing plant in Vadodara.
Biocon, meanwhile, announced in December it had teamed up with the Keck Graduate Institute (KGI), California to bring training programs for biotech students in India as part of Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) initiative. “Through this partnership we hope to emulate the success of the KGI learning model in India and build a robust talent pool for the global Biotech sector,” we were told.
The first batch of 30 students graduated from the Biocon Academy earlier this week, and the firm told us all had been successfully placed for functions such as production, quality assurance, regulatory affairs, and R&D in various companies, including Biogen itself and its subsidiary Syngene.
Whilst Biocon said the Academy was helping to fix the skill shortage in Indian biotech, the firm warned us the industry was being held back by a number of other factors.
“The present success of the Indian Biotech sector is attributable to a large pool of English-speaking scientific and engineering talent and an educated technical work force,” we were told. “However, this success has been achieved despite a challenging environment of sub-optimal funding, inadequate infrastructure and a challenging regulatory environment.
“If India is to fulfil its aspiration of being a leading global innovation hub for biotechnology, it needs to fix all these as well as address the skills deficit.”