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India's Biotech Industry Expects Rapid Growth - 2004-07-18

India's fledgling biotechnology industry is hoping to emulate the success of the country's flourishing information technology sector.

India's biotechnology sector is small. It employs 25,000 workers and generated $700 million in revenue last year.

That could change soon. Experts say the industry is poised for rapid growth, using the same advantages that powered the boom in India's information technology sector.

Biotechnology, like the software industry, is knowledge-intensive. This gives India's low-cost, but highly qualified, work force a new opportunity to tap into areas such as drug research, clinical trials and bio-informatics.

In a recent report, global accounting firm Ernst and Young listed India as one of the five top biotechnology leaders in the Asia Pacific region. It says that over the next five years, the sector will generate $5 billion in revenue, and create more than one million jobs.

Sandhya Tiwari, director of the biotechnology department at the Confederation of Indian Industry, says the sector is attracting wide interest.

"The industry has been growing very well at the rate of 25 percent for the last two or three years," she said. "And a lot of start-up companies have come up in these last three or four years."

Many of these new companies are inspired by the success of India's leading biotechnology company, Biocon, which began as a start-up 25 years ago in a garage in Bangalore. Today it has grown into a billion-dollar company, and its founder, Kiran Mazumdar Shaw is India's richest woman. The company recently doubled its profit in the first three months of this year to more than $10 million.

The country's information technology hub, Bangalore is emerging as the new biotech center, with many new companies setting up shop there. Ms. Tiwari says the sector also is attracting multinational collaboration.

"It is a very good opportunity for overseas companies to partner with Indian companies in research, manufacturing and even clinical trials," added Sandhya Tiwari.

Industry officials say India's entry into a global patent regime under the World Trade Organization next year will help boost investments by Western companies in biotechnology.