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Is Biotech India’s Next Wave?

Softbank this week announced a potential $150 MM investment into clinical trial startup Science 37.

The fund continues to back biotech or health sciences companies, with investments in drug developer Roivant, cancer detection company Guardant and infectious disease care company Vir.

Earlier this year, Cell Design Labs was acquired by Gilead Life Sciences for $175MM. Investors are committing strongly to the space, and it is a sign that biotechnology is (quietly) going big.

Humanity’s instatiable curiosity is leading to increased interest in our own biologies.

The big question is – we could engineer machines, could we engineer ourselves?

While this may sound straight out of science fiction (or remind you of cyborgs), researchers have begun to talk of cells with operating systems and the ability to ‘install” genomes.

As an analogy, before the internet became so widespread, its digital and physical systems were setup. This allowed consumer applications such as Amazon and Google to be built “from a garage”.

Similarly, this kind of path-breaking research is helping build systems that will allow more innovators to build biotechnology “applications”. Software-enabled biotech products could soon be a reality.

Converting our biologies to systems or applications that could be engineered can result in endless possibilities.

Could we harness the power of our brain’s biology to drastically improve computation, or edit gene sequences to prevent life-threatening diseases, or modify cells to reduce ageing?

While these specific applications may be extremely far-fetched, allowing more people to participate in biotechnology is definitely allowing greater disruption.

Just like the internet, harnessing the creativity and skill of more human beings will result in more innovation. I believe this portends well, especially for India.

India’s economy today has seen a substantial contribution from the IT services boom.

Despite Mr. Gurnani’s claims of 94% of IT graduates being unhirable, I think India’s pool of talented doctors and engineers can be harnessed for biotechnology.

India could have it’s next big tech opportunity here, from basic data collection for training algorithms to advanced biological research. The sheer magnitude of talent, combined with the right private and public investment could make India a biotechnology hub for the world. 

India also has two large industries that have the capital to fund innovation in biotech – pharma and IT.

Indian pharma has strong business reasons to invest in biotechnology, which would result in the development of better drugs.

Majors such as Infosys have already setup Life Sciences divisions, signalling a strong intent to support the industry. Given the inherently risky nature of biotech, it is excellent to see government support to help build biotechnology companies.

This serves a segue for larger private investment in the Indian market, which is already happening in western markets. For me, the most exciting segments would be computational biology, biopharma and diagnostics – all three are would harness both technology and biology.

It may not be long before humans could “execute” biological activities like software, and I think is a fantastic opportunity for India to be a large player.