The Program Management Unit of the Biotechnology Industry Research Assistance Council (BIRAC), Gov. of India, organized a roundtable meeting titled ‘Innovate in India’ in Berlin. The meeting, held on the sidelines of the Annual Grand Challenges Meeting 2018, brought together development partners, donors and multilateral organisations to explore potential avenues for collaborations to innovate in India. It saw high-level participation from donor agencies such as the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation (BMGF), United State Agency for International Development (USAID), Wellcome Trust and Grand Challenges Canada, among others.
Dr. Renu Swarup, Secretary, Department of Biotechnology, Govt. of India, said, “In the past two decades, we have made major advances in science and technology which have transformed the lives of millions in the country. As India aspires to become a global leader in research and development, it will be important to continue to foster collaborations between countries and interested donor agencies, to achieve common goals. This meeting was organized to showcase India’s immense research potential and we are glad to note that the country continues to be a preferred partner for collaboration for innovation and research.”
To bridge the gap between industry and academia and encourage innovation to address social needs in the biotechnology space, the Government of India set up BIRAC, a wholly owned company of the Government of India under the Department of Biotechnology. The Programme Management Unit (PMU) at BIRAC was created to manage initiatives and projects on behalf of donor organizations including the Department of Biotechnology, Government of India and BMGF that have the potential to change the lives of millions in India. In 2013, the BIRAC-PMU, BMGF and USAID started the Grand Challenges India (GCI) program, which aims to encourage Indian innovators, to solve key health and development challenges that India faces. In 2016, Wellcome Trust joined PMU-BIRAC as a partner.
Dr. Steven Buchsbaum, Deputy Director, Discovery & Translational Sciences, Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, said, “We are deeply encouraged by the growth of the Grand Challenges India initiative. India, with its tremendous research potential and long history of science and innovation, has been an integral partner of the Global Grand Challenges Community. Through our association with the Department of Biotechnology, we have taken great strides in addressing various public health and development challenges, and we hope to continue partnering with the Indian government in their endeavor to make India a global biotechnology hub.”
Grand Challenges India (GCI) program has supported projects at various stages in their lifecycle, from basic science research in laboratories to proof-of-concept projects and potentially to scale-up to innovation projects. Through the GCI program, BIRAC is pursuing research efforts across different disciplines, including maternal and child health, antimicrobial resistance, vaccines, immunization data systems, point-of-care diagnostics, agricultural development, food and nutrition, sanitation and hygiene, among others. GCI, which started with 2 programs, has now funded over 20 projects across 4 programs in 5 years and has committed over USD 30 million in funding.
Dr. Shirshendu Mukherjee, Mission Director, Programme Management Unit, BIRAC, said, “It is heartening to see the growth of BIRAC and the Grand Challenges India initiative. With support from the Government of India and donor agencies, we have contributed to creating a more enabling environment for innovation-driven entrepreneurship in the field of biotechnology. These projects have shown incredible potential in addressing persisting social challenges, which are pertinent to not only the national context, but global as well.”
In 2016, Prime Minister Narendra Modi pledged to place India among the top three countries in the world in the field of science and technology by 2030. Flagship government initiatives such as Start-Up India and Make in India have been launched to encourage innovation-driven entrepreneurship in different sectors. In the biotechnology space, in particular, the government launched its National Biotechnology Development Strategy 2015-20 with the aim of creating a biotech sector worth US$ 100 billion by 2020.