HYDERABAD, India – Multinationals and domestic companies are stepping up research in India, including working to leverage the country’s digital and entrepreneurial capabilities, to boost India’s capabilities and market share in more innovative biologic drugs.
“India has a rich and vibrant technology community,” said Bertrand Bodson, chief digital officer at Novartis AG, during the BioAsia 2020 conference. “Together, we have a fantastic opportunity to combine our scientific know-how with the expertise of tech players, big and small, to create digital solutions for patients.”
Basel, Switzerland-based Novartis announced during the conference the opening of its fourth – and Asia’s first – digital innovation laboratory, Novartis Biome India, in Hyderabad. The other three are in San Francisco, Paris and London.
Meanwhile, Syngene International Ltd. opened a new research and development center in Hyderabad on Feb. 17. The new center, the company’s first outside its Indian headquarters in Bangalore, is expected to be fully commissioned by the end of 2020 and represents an investment of more than $23 million. It will initially offer discovery chemistry services.
Novartis Biome India will network with partners to work with digital technologies, including startups, industry and academia. It is the company’s third largest center, Novartis CEO Vas Narasimhan said during BioAsia 2020.
The latest Biome is linked to the other three Novartis Biomes. Bodson said that by joining this global network, Novartis Biome India can tap into the assets and expertise of the broader Novartis portfolio, including access to anonymized data, customized residency programs and personalized mentoring.
“We want to leverage this ecosystem to work with startups and innovators to disrupt health care in the country and perhaps the world,” said Naveen Gullapalli, head of Novartis Hyderabad.
Novartis uses the Biomes concept to open up access to key Novartis resources, including datasets, mentorship and customized curriculums.
The Novartis Biome is also intended to tap into India’s powerful digital ecosystem at large, including incubators and accelerators, venture capital, industry partners and data providers. The goal is to leverage data and digital technologies to improve and extend patient lives.
Meanwhile, Syngene’s new R&D center is a fully digitized facility that includes automation features such as electronic laboratory notebooks and analytical intelligence.
The two initiatives come amidst efforts by Indian pharma companies to launch new innovator molecules and gradually step up the product value chain.
Broadening R&D efforts
Indian and global companies have significant footprints in Hyderabad and are expanding their operations, including R&D and digital support services, said K. T. Rama Rao, industries minister for Telangana state whose capital is Hyderabad.
A report by global consultancy EY released on Feb. 17 noted the average R&D spend by the top Indian pharma companies increased from 5.9% of sales in 2009 to about 8.8% in 2017. Companies are broadening their research and development focus from their traditional strength area of generics to biosimilars and drug delivery options as well as new chemical entities.
For the time being, the market penetration in India of more advanced drugs like biosimilars remains low, but it is expected to grow alongside disposable incomes and consumer demand. There is also growing acceptance among physicians. According to EY, as companies boost their biosimilars pipelines, India could capture about 8% of the $62 billion global biosimilar market by 2025.
In the Indian context, biosimilars could make up roughly 7% of the total pharma market by 2025.
Bangalore-based Biocon Ltd., for example, earned INR15.2 billion (US$212 million), or nearly 28% of its overall revenue, from biosimilars in 2019.
Developing new biologic drugs would put Indian companies in direct competition with global innovators. Companies like Zydus Cadila, headquartered in Ahmedabad, and Mumbai-based Glenmark Pharmaceuticals as well as some of the large clinical research organizations (CROs) and contract development and manufacturing organizations (CDMOs) are already engaged in the research for new drugs.
About 30% (400 out of 1,200) of the scientists in Zydus are working on new chemical entity (NME) research at its dedicated research arm, Zydus Research Centre. In addition to launching innovative drugs, the company is also strategically focusing on drug repurposing.
The company launched India’s first indigenously discovered and developed NME, Lipaglyn, for type 2 diabetes in 2013. Since then, the company has continuously expanded research on new uses for Lipaglyn, including in nonalcoholic steatohepatitis, nonalcoholic fatty liver disease and primary biliary cholangitis.