BIRAC is a unique organisation in the Indian context. It is the nodal funding agency for the biotechnology industry that evolved out of a programme (BIRAP) and was later, in 2012, transformed as a Not for Profit, Sec 25 (now Sec 8) company under the aegis of the Department of Biotechnology. The fundamental mandate for BIRAC is to nurture and grow the emerging biotechnology industry in India and catalyse the growth of the industry to global excellence. The biotechnology industry in particular has several challenges unlike many other industrial segments- the chief challenges being intense capital & high end infrastructure required from startup stage, a long gestation phase (anywhere between 5-10 years) for products to reach the market from the ideation stage and intense regulatory scrutiny the products are subjected to as they impact human & animal health. BIRAC has been cognisant of these issues and has been focused on de-risking all aspects of novel product development chain.
Figure 1: Strategies for BIRAC for implementation of its mandate.
Framework for assessment of BIRAC
The frameworks to assess a public funding agencies takes into account both direct and indirect parameters. Overall the parameters for assessment align with the mandate of BIRAC and also should take in to account the overall milieu of funding of public enterprises themselves. The direct parameters include:
The indirect parameters include
1. Funding support to SMEs & stimulating SME’s R&D behaviour
BIRAC has supported 270 companies through its programmes such as SBIRI, BIPP and CRS. The total amount of funding is INR1300 crores wherein BIRAC’s contribution is INR 550crores while industry has committed INR 750crores. This figure is of significance- it alludes to the fact that despite the overall industry being nascent in India, given the right funding tools (such as BIRAC’s SBIRI & BIPP) the appetite of the emerging industry for R&D is increasing. As of 2014, BIRAC’s programmes (especially SBIRI & BIPP) had fostered 68 collaborations between industry & academia.
Figure 2: SBIRI & BIIP’s impact
2. Kickstarting biotech startups in India
The biotech startup scenario in India was transformed by one of BIRAC’s flagship scheme called BIG (Biotechnology Ignition Grant). BIG has supported 140 entrepreneurial ideas over 5 calls at pre-proof-of-concept stage. BIG has also encouraged entrepreneurial individuals to establish startups. BIRAC has provided INR41 crores to 101 entrepreneurial idea stage projects between BIG1 until the BIG4th call. During BIG 1st to BIG 4th calls, 22 new startups were created (in 18 months) and the total number of employment generated is 231.
Figure 3: BIG- creating new startups
3. Providing access to high end infrastructural requirement to the biotech community to foster and facilitate bio-entrepreneurship in India
BioNEST program by BIRAC provides support to establish and scale up bio-incubators throughout India. So far BIRAC has supported 30 bio-incubators creating a cumulative incubation area of 3,00,000 sq. ft. for budding entrepreneurs and Startups. BIRAC provides funding support and mentorship for innovative ideas of scientists, entrepreneurs from research institutes, academia and Startups aimed to address unmet needs in Healthcare, Agriculture and Industrial Biotechnology. BIRAC under the flagship funding scheme called Biotechnology Ignition Grant (BIG) facilitates creation of affordable solutions and technologies. BIRAC implements this scheme through 6 BIG partners. BIRAC Regional Innovation Centre (BRIC) & BIRAC Regional Entrepreneurship Centre (BREC) have also been set up with an aim to foster and facilitate mentorship, training and extending business opportunities in the overall scheme of nurturing biotech entrepreneurship.
4. New products, technologies IP emerging from the funded projects
Through its various funding mechanism, BIRAC has created 30 affordable technologies/products and 27 early stage technologies thus highlighting its impetus in Make in India programme. These products and technologies are from biopharma, industrial biotech, medical devices and agribiotechnology. Some of the products are Rotavac (Rotavirus vaccine) that will immunize children against rotaviral diseases and others such as Maxio help in tumor ablation (Maxio has also received USFDA clearance).