Time to bring the focus back on India's R&D

As we envision the coming decade with tech that is transformational and will change the face of health care, we must look at investing in future needs

Updated: Mar 15, 2022 06:41:27 PM UTC
With India’s export of medical devices expected to reach $10 bn by 2025, domestic industry will have to work in tandem with global investments to achieve this. Image: Shutterstock

When we speak of healthcare, the future is here. Medtech is on the brink of the kind of disruption we’ve never seen before. Integration of data, relying on AI for critical decisions, making accessible health care a new reality with smarter innovations—the world is reimagining health care. It cannot happen by standing at the periphery of change. The time is now to invest on research and development (R&D) strategies that drive this transformation.

As we envision the coming decade with tech that is transformational, delivers customer value, improves patient outcomes and bridges the gaps that exist, we must look at investing in future needs.

Building on India’s story as the investment hub for R&D

India’s spending on R&D, which is close to about 0.6 percent of its GDP, is well below developed countries like the US which stands close to a 2.8 percent, 2.1 percent for China, and Israel at 4.3 percent. While India is strengthening its ‘Make in India’ story, we must create a research ecosystem that attracts investment, not only from domestic players but also the world. It’s interesting to see how the government is already taking concrete steps like promising an investment of Rs 50,000 crore in the National Research Fund for over five years, to spur innovation. Since there is a strong need to build our R&D capabilities, such steps could mark the beginning of India becoming a R&D and innovation hub.

A bigger challenge here is, how do we make industry-friendly regulated processes and remove the bottlenecks to make India the innovation hub.

Making Indian healthcare future ready

Let’s start with the simple example of the Indian medical devices industry. This sunrise sector of the Indian economy has been growing exponentially at a CAGR of 15 percent over the last 3 years. What’s working for India at this point, is also the start-up ecosystem in India’s medical devices sector which has more than 250 organisations working on innovations. Speaking about the potential of the medical devices market in India, it could increase at a 37 percent CAGR, reaching $50 billion by 2025. In fact, India has also been ranked number 1 in the Central and South Asian region in the Global Innovation Index.

How do we build India to become an innovation hub for the world? The first step towards this transition would be making India a knowledge economy as well, where R&D is paramount. Global standards in healthcare require investments in the building of a skilled workforce. Today, India has built manufacturing clusters for medical devices which are dedicated industrial parks for domestic manufacturing at lower costs. In 2021, the government also sanctioned a proposal worth $674.36 million to build a medical devices park in Himachal Pradesh. Now, these investments will be led by students, as skilled force, professionals and experts with expertise in the subject.

Identifying the investment drivers

While the government is investing heavily in building a skilled talent pool through initiatives like the National Institutes of Pharmaceutical Education & Research (NIPERS), which are hubs of innovation and advanced research, the partnerships between the industry and academia could accelerate this initiative. We need to work together to ensure that our students and professional are upskilled with relevant learning programs for faculties to increase their competency.

Fortunately, the medical device industry is already infusing this growth learning as a part of their value structure. From programmes to hone the skills, to workshops for building their skillset, clinical education to online trainings, the industry is investing in skill enhancement programs. The time is now to partner with the government and make this a success for India.

Even as we make significant investments in the medical device sector, we know that imports comprise 70 percent of the market. And this has only increased four-fold in the last decade. The indigenous market is still fragmented, peppered with multinational players. With India’s export of medical devices expected to reach $10 bn by 2025, domestic industry will have to work in tandem with global investments to achieve this. At this juncture, while the ‘Make in India’ story continues to unfold, it is imperative to build a system where the industry, global players and government work together to map this market growth.

The writer is senior vice president, NATHEALTH, and managing director, Wipro GE Healthcare.

The thoughts and opinions shared here are of the author.

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