Monday, 1 January 2018

2017 – A Landmark Year for Indian Science

By Kiran Mazumdar Shaw, CMD,  Biocon

2017 has been an exciting year for science in India. From unheralded incremental innovations to Big Bang headline-grabbing global feats, Indian scientists have done some very important work to push the frontiers of science during the year.

India researchers made significant contributions to R&D across a broad spectrum of fields spanning across space sciences to life sciences. The Indian scientific community was seemingly responding to Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s clarion call to propel our nation into the elite league of the Top Three countries in science and technology by 2030.

The victories, big or small, have been hard won. They are the culmination of years of intensive R&D efforts, frugal innovation, pooled knowhow, and a constant focus on excellence often in the face of scepticism and scarce funding.

2017: A Space Odyssey

The big payoff came early in the year when the Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO)  scripted history by successfully launching a record 104 satellites into orbit using a single rocket, beating the previous record of 37 satellites deployed by Russia in 2014. It made the world stand up and take notice. Thanks to ISRO, we are now ranked among the world’s Top Six space-faring nations in terms of technological capabilities and an exclusive member of the global space club.

Indian scientists also played a key role in one of the major discoveries in the history of astronomy – the first-ever direct detection of gravitational waves. Nearly 40 scientists from several institutes across India contributed to the paper on the discovery of gravitational waves, which won its lead scientists the Nobel Prize for Physics in 2017.

Indian astronomers and astrophysicists also identified a previously unknown, extremely large supercluster of 43 galaxies located 4 billion light years away, which they named Saraswati.

Making a Big Impact in Life Sciences

Indian scientists also demonstrated their advanced skills in the competitive realm of life sciences discovery. Not content with making generic versions of innovator products, several Indian pharma companies are themselves turning to innovation. Earlier this year, Glenmark Pharmaceuticals got the U.S. FDA’s nod to initiate human trials on one of their experimental antibody drugs to treat multiple myeloma. Sun Pharmaceutical, too, made progress on the development of a novel psoriasis drug.

Close collaboration between the scientific teams of Strand Life Sciences, the Mazumdar Shaw Center for Translational Research (MSCTR), and the Mazumdar Shaw Medical Center (MSMC) led to breakthrough research in cancer detection. It resulted in Strand Life Sciences becoming one of the earliest companies to introduce the revolutionary liquid biopsy technology in India, which allows cancer diagnosis through a blood test.

Indian scientists have also devised a unique method of early cancer detection using Artificial Intelligence (AI). Researchers from the Indian Institute of Science Education and Research (IISER), Kolkata and Indian Institute of Technology (IIT), Kanpur have developed an AI-based algorithm that uses light scattered from tissues to differentiate normal and precancerous tissues with high speed and great accuracy.

Elsewhere, scientists from the Institute of Genomics and Integrative Biology (IGIB) played a key role in the discovery of a potential cure for Friedreich’s ataxia, a genetic disease that damages the nervous system and impedes normal movement in patients. If successful, this novel molecule could help reverse this neurodegenerative disease that so far has no cure.

Biocon Makes a Mark

At Biocon, we have been leveraging India’s value advantage of unmatched scientific talent to indigenously develop innovative biotechnology-based therapies aimed at making a huge difference globally in the treatment of chronic diseases.

Having  launched India’s first novel biologic drug for head & neck cancer, Nimotuzumab, in 2006,  followed by the introduction of  a novel biologic therapy for psoriasis, Itolizumab, in 2013, we have continued to focus on differentiated therapies with a view to make a difference to patient lives.

While 2017 was a challenging year, we concluded the year on a euphoric note with a landmark achievement that demonstrated our advanced R&D capabilities. The US FDA approved a biosimilar antibody drug, Trastuzumab, co-developed by Biocon and Mylan to treat aggressive forms of breast and gastric cancers. It marked a major milestone for India as well Biocon, as we became the first company from India to secure a biosimilar approval in the US. This approval not only establishes Biocon as a credible biologics player from India it puts us in an exclusive league of global biosimilar players.

We also launched KRABEVA® (Bevacizumab), a key biosimilar antibody drug for the treatment of patients with metastatic colorectal cancer and other types of lung, kidney, cervical, ovarian and brain cancers, in India.

These developments endorse the strength of our country’s science and the manufacturing capability to develop world-class biosimilars that conform to best-in-class global quality standards.

Surge of Data Sciences

India is fast gaining global recognition for the quality of its data scientists who enable evidence based decision making. The ability of our data analysts has led to the emergence of decision sciences at the intersection of technology, business and math thus creating a new man machine ecosystem. The exponential growth in the fields of Artificial Intelligence and machine learning is leading to a huge demand for highly skilled professionals. Over the last one year  the number of analytics jobs in India has almost doubled. Bengaluru-based Mu Sigma, was among the first few companies in India to spot this trend early on and since then has  capitalized on this opportunity to build a billion-dollar enterprise with a reputed client base of  leading multinationals. As more data analytics projects get outsourced to India, due to lack of such skills across the world, we are likely to see a boom in this field in the years ahead.

The Pursuit of Excellence

The Indian scientific community has set new benchmarks in scientific excellence and created a powerful and formidable brand for India in 2017. Our pursuit of excellence extends into the New Year and beyond. And I take this opportunity to thank all our scientists whose achievements have invoked a sense of national pride in every Indian citizen. Our scientific advancements have proven beyond doubt that through conviction and passion we can achieve leadership in science & technology and innovation excellence!

Happy New Year!

Monday, 27 November 2017

Crusader for Affordable Healthcare

Biocon, CMD, Kiran Mazumdar-Shaw
Financial Chronicle: Big Interview: Biocon CMD Kiran Mazumdar-Shaw spoke to FC on a range of topics, including women as entrepreneurs, philanthropy, affordable healthcare, citizen activism etc. Here’s the full version of the interview.
  1. As a woman business leader, what are some of the challenges you have encountered in getting to the top and how were you able to surmount them? Has the situation improved for women entrepreneurs today?
I am happy to note that a large number of women entrepreneurs are coming to the fore in India today. In fact, India has been ranked as the most active country for successful women entrepreneurs, with one-third of early-stage entrepreneurs being women.
This is a huge change from when I started Biocon in 1978. I had to function in a fairly hostile business environment and surmount a lot of credibility challenges. Professionals did not want to work for me as they felt that I could not provide them ‘job security’ being a woman, and some even assumed I was the secretary to the Managing Director (MD) and not the MD.  Suppliers told me they were reluctant to give me credit because they did not have confidence in my business abilities. Banks and financial institutions were reluctant to fund me and some even suggested that my father should be the guarantor for any loans.
While more women are coming forward with new entrepreneurial ventures, women-led startups still find it difficult to get funding. A recent media report said only 2% of all the fund raised by startups in India in 2017 went into women led start-ups.
Researchers from the University of California, San Diego in the US, have found that men, who make up 90% of venture capitalists, prefer to invest in companies run by other males. Since female-led startups face tougher funding prospects than male-led startups, fewer women enter the tech entrepreneur pipeline that ultimately feeds the ranks of venture capitalists, according to the study.
Thankfully, Bengaluru is blessed to have a booming ecosystem for women entrepreneurs. I hope such an environment can be replicated pan-India to enable women-led businesses to overcome challenges, manage risk and deliver growth.
  1. Given the high cost of healthcare, what steps are needed to improve healthcare delivery in rural India?
India needs a healthcare model that hinges on affordability and access. This calls for existing public health infrastructure to be revitalised, new medical centres to be built and modern Information and Communication Technology (ICT)-based telemedicine technology to be leveraged for addressing the demand-supply gaps in terms of doctors and health facilities, especially in the rural areas. There is an urgent need to promote Public Private Partnership (PPP) models in healthcare.
The government alone cannot meet the healthcare infrastructure and capacity gaps in Tier II and Tier III cities as well as rural areas. While it’s true that some PPP projects attempted earlier have failed, clear policy guidelines can ensure the successful implementation and sustainability of healthcare PPP models in future.
I believe advances in ICTs provide a very effective tool for improving healthcare delivery and reducing healthcare disparities in rural areas. A modern ICT-based universal healthcare system can help leverage modern diagnostics in primary healthcare for early detection and treatment, and integration with telemedicine could bridge the deficit of specialists at the primary care level. Through cloud based data collection for patient profiling, epidemiological and patient centric data can be generated which will enable mapping of the disease burden at the level of the smallest administrative unit.  Comprehensive databases and disease registries can enable better evaluation of the incidence and diversity of diseases thereby allowing for more effective healthcare interventions.
Biocon Foundation, Biocon’s CSR arm, has embraced technology for healthcare delivery at various levels – through mobile phones, handheld diagnostic devices, ICT-enabled eLAJ smart clinics and digitized patient records. We have also entered into public private partnerships (PPPs) in Rajasthan and Karnataka to scale up our various CSR programs. These initiatives have contributed to expanding the reach of our programs.
  1. What are your views on the recent controversy over the KPME Act, which has brought into focus the issue of high cost of private medical treatment in the country?
We all know the dismal state of healthcare in our country where public healthcare services are almost non-existent and people have to rely on private healthcare ecosystem for high quality healthcare delivery. Inadequate public investment in health infrastructure gets compensated by large-scale investments by the private sector, which is over 3% of GDP or almost double  of the government’s spending on healthcare in India.
The proposed Karnataka Private Medical Establishments (KPME) Amendment Bill that includes price control on private healthcare sector will be detrimental for the health of this sector and suicidal for patients.
While government’s intention to safeguard patient’s interests and make healthcare delivery affordable is good, the mechanism proposed through KPME Amendment Bill is sub-optimal. Seeking to cap prices of various medical procedures at private hospitals will be detrimental to the fiscal health of those who have invested heavily in setting up world-class hospitals, as well as for the patients in the long run.
While undue profiteering at the cost of patients’ needs to be discouraged, these hospitals need to make  decent returns on investment (RoIs) to make their business sustainable. If not, the private healthcare sector will meet the same fate as the existing government hospitals, which have failed to provide good quality healthcare to people. Therefore, in my view, we need to have a more comprehensive regulatory framework that looks beyond price caps in private sector to ensure quality healthcare coverage for all.
Another proposed modification in the KPME (A) Bill calls for imprisonment of doctors found guilty of negligence. Such a provision could prove counterproductive by deterring doctors from taking quick decisions in emergency cases. A more pragmatic ‘3 Strikes, You’re Out’ approach could help curb malpractices by doctors as erring individuals could stand to lose their licenses if they step out of line despite two previous warnings.
The proposal to set up a specific patient grievance redressal cell to fast track patient complaints is again good in its intent but not thought through well, since doctors can be held liable under current consumer protection laws and complaints against them can be made to Karnataka Medical Council (KMC), Medical Council of India (MCI) and the Lokayukta. Adding another forum will only complicate the matter further, unless some of the existing channels are closed for complaints against doctors.
I am glad that Karnataka Chief Minister Mr Siddaramaiah has engaged with the protesting community and has agreed to look into their concerns. I think he is amenable to modifying some of the harsher aspects of the KPME (A) Bill and I believe that healthcare providers  have also agreed for price regulation for procedures under govt. health insurance schemes. So, I hope the modified bill when tabled will be in the best interest of patients and healthcare providers.
While there can be no debate over the need to increase access to affordable healthcare for the common man, the government also needs to upgrade the public healthcare delivery and not just  focus on controlling the private sector which is the major provider of tertiary healthcare in the country today. It is time that the government increases its spending on public health and starts investing more in hospitals to bring them at par with the private hospitals both in terms of infrastructure and high-end talent. The government also needs to create mechanisms that allow patients’ grievances to be addressed in an expeditious and fair manner. The aim should be to ensure ‘best-in-class’ healthcare services delivery in the public and private sphere, for the larger benefit of Indian patients.
  1. If technology can be leveraged to improve healthcare delivery, can it work in improving the level of governance in India?
I believe the government needs to leverage technology in a big way to deliver governance that is efficient, transparent and accountable. The goods and services tax (GST) as originally envisaged could have been a model of how a simple, technology-based tax administration can effectively raise compliance and tax collections in the country. However, messy political bargaining has led to the GST’s current structure that is seriously flawed, defeating the very purpose it was meant to serve.
If the government had taken the views of all stakeholders on board before implementing GST, they would not have to constantly run to the drawing board to tweak the tax slabs to ensure better ease of doing business and improve India’s global competitiveness.
Take for example, ambulances with a capacity of 10-13 people, including the driver, now attract the highest GST rate of 28% plus 15% compensation cess. The huge tax component inflates the cost of the ambulance. Similarly, hospitals pay GST at a rate of 28% on all purchases and services availed for air-conditioned hospital beds. Hospitals, however, cannot offset this higher tax incidence by taking input credit for the GST paid as healthcare services are exempt from service tax. If this anomaly is not addressed, it will lead to a deterioration of hospital services and worse, make businesses unviable.  Hospital care is not a luxury service and the government should not confuse hospitals with hospitality!
  1. You have channelled some of your philanthropic activities towards boosting entrepreneurship in the country. What other areas do you focus on as part of your philanthropy?
As the founder of a Biopharmaceutical company, I believe innovation and commerce are as powerful for driving technological advancement as they are for creating social progress. It is my long-held belief in the power of entrepreneurship to drive change that has led me to support startups, especially in the area of healthcare.
As part of my philanthropic efforts I also passionately support the pursuit of science to target cancer, which is a debilitating disease that imposes unbearable financial burden on patients in poor countries.  The Mazumdar-Shaw Medical Center, my philanthropic initiative in partnership with Dr Devi Shetty, aims to create a sustainable affordable cancer care model that leverages advanced technologies, state-of-the-art diagnostics and best-in-class talent to address the challenges associated with this fatal disease. Our unique cancer care model enables the poor to access treatment at costs subsidized by those who can afford it.  The Mazumdar-Shaw Centre for Translational Research, which is an integral part of the hospital, has developed a number of advanced yet affordable genomics based cancer diagnostics including liquid biopsies.  This is enabling early diagnosis and better treatment outcomes based on personalized medicine.
Biocon, the company that I founded in 1978, has committed its Corporate Social Responsibility to ensure that marginalized communities living in underserved urban and rural areas of India can enjoy the ‘Right to Health’, the ‘Right to Education’ and the ‘Right to Sanitation’. Over the years, Biocon Foundation has built a strong reputation for the quality of its programs and their impact in addressing the social, humanitarian and environmental challenges of India.
My love for the arts influences my philanthropic efforts aimed at encouraging new artists. Deteriorating civic amenities in another area of concern that I try to address through my philanthropy.
I am inspired to join Bill & Melinda Gates and the growing fraternity of the Giving Pledge in their philanthropic efforts to make this world a better place. I have been giving away half of my income towards philanthropy on an annual basis. My will reflects this intent very succinctly. In 2016, I became the second Indian to take the Giving Pledge.
Having grown up in a middle class family in India, I was brought up by my parents to believe that wealth creation is about making a difference to society. As a first generation entrepreneur, I built my company Biocon with these guiding principles. My success with Biocon has given me the wherewithal to pursue my overarching commitment to social inclusiveness.
  1. Tell us more about your work with B.PAC. Bengaluru known for its lakes is becoming a city of neglect with its choked drains and lakes. what is B.PAC doing in this area?
B.PAC has today emerged as a platform for participative governance by galvanizing ordinary citizens of Bengaluru to engage proactively with government and civic bodies.
We as citizens cannot stand by and blame the government for all that ails our cities today, we need to demonstrate ownership as well as exhibit responsible behaviour. For instance, a large part of the problem of dead or dying water bodies is on account of garbage and untreated sewage from residential colonies and commercial establishments is being allowed to flow into lakes. Unfortunately, when this happens the burden of finding a solution is passed on to key individuals or corporates, besides government bodies and citizens are not held accountable for creating these problems. B.PAC is trying to address this anomaly through better citizen engagement in finding solutions for the problems of our city and restoring its past glory.
While corporates are ready to contribute, Citizens too need to get involved by vigilantly guarding against attempts by land sharks to grab lakebeds and ensuring that untreated effluents and sewage do not end up polluting lakes. The government, on its part, needs to ensure that heavy fines are imposed to deter people from polluting lakes and dumping garbage.
B.PAC is actively working towards citizen engagement in addressing various issues. For example in order to get citizens involved in lake conservation at the ward level, B.PAC has selected community representatives staying around lakes to actively participate in the process. B.PAC teams are also providing authorities with the necessary data for selection of lakes in the city for rejuvenation.
Similarly, under the B.Safe program B.PAC has joined hands with the Bangalore City Police for the ‘A Billon Eyes – For a Safer Bengaluru’ Initiative. Research shows that bystander intervention helps prevent harassment and increases the sense of safety among women. Hence, this campaign is helping ensure citizens are prepared to actively help in ensuring the safety of women and children in the city.
Recently, B.PAC has also launched the My Place of Pride (MYPOP) contest, which rates, ranks and awards the communities that exhibit best practices in solid waste management, water conservation, power management, fire safety and hygiene and cleanliness.
B.PAC is pushing Bengaluru citizens to shed their apathy and engage effectively with the political system to find solutions to the myriad issues that bedevil our city.

This article originally appeared in Financial Chronicle, November 25, 2017 issue.

Friday, 22 September 2017

India To Be A Biotech Hot Spot

The last 70 years have been transformational for the Indian biotech industry, mirroring the nation’s own rapidly advancing economy and rising global status. We have successfully leveraged recombinant DNA technology to deliver biopharmaceuticals, vaccines, genetically engineered crops and enzymes. In doing so, we have created a notable bio-economy valued at $35 billion. 

We have embraced cutting-edge technologies, built global scale manufacturing capacities, and benchmarked our systems and strategies to global best practices. Currently, India is among the top 12 biotechnology destinations in the world and ranks third in the Asia-Pacific region. While our immediate goal is to build a $100 billion bio-economy in India by 2025, in the next 30 years, India aspires to become a biotechnology hot spot reputed for its high-value, low-cost innovations in bio-therapeutics including personalised and precision medicine, advanced enzyme technologies, GM crops and bioinformatics.  

The success of India’s biotechnology industry can be traced to the pioneering spirit of entrepreneurs who leveraged a nascent technology and India’s cost-effective scientific talent pool to bring affordable innovations to the market. Its evolution over the decades mirrored the country’s growing confidence in life sciences. While the 1980s were the decade of enzymes, the next decade saw vaccines gaining prominence as a business segment. The emergence of genomics research companies in the 2000s was followed by Novel biologics and biosimilars making an impact from 2010 onwards.

I started Biocon as India’s first biotech enterprise in 1978 in a garage in Bengaluru to manufacture industrial enzymes for food and textile industries around the world. The initial years were tough as I encountered market scepticism, funding challenges, infrastructural hurdles, manpower issues and government apathy. I persevered because I believed biotechnology was the technology of the future with the potential to deliver transformational change.

By the mid-1980s, Biocon had evolved as the largest enzymes company of India pursuing an R&D-led biotech business. As few more biotechnology-based companies started coming up, it caught the attention of the government and, in 1986, the Department of Biotechnology (DBT) was established. I was privileged to be invited to be a part of the DBT’s Task Force, which helped articulate the regulatory framework for the industry. Recombinant technologies were at the fulcrum of regulations covering vaccines, genetically modified crops and biopharmaceuticals. 

Biocon’s stock market debut in 2004, as the first biotech company in India to go public, commanded a premium valuation. It led to the development of a biocluster in Bengaluru, attracting a number of large and small biotech companies. These included Strand Genomics, a bioinformatics company; Gangagen, a phage-based antibiotic company; Reametrix, a whole blood-based diagnostics instrumentation company; Syngene, which spearheaded research services; and Bio-IT companies like Genotypic Technology, BigTec and Molecular Connections. The cluster also spurred the growth of ancillary biotech companies. 

The disruptive power of Indian biotechnology innovation grabbed the attention of the world in the late 1990s when companies like Shantha Biotechnics, Bharat Biotech, and Serum Institute started producing and supplying vaccines at a fraction of the cost of western drug makers. Today, ‘1 in 3’ children globally are immunised with a ‘Made in India’ vaccine. 

Having built a strong base of indigenous R&D capabilities and excellent clinical trials and manufacturing infrastructure, the industry started developing biotech-based drugs or biologics. Taking the lead, Biocon introduced India’s indigenously developed recombinant human insulin using a proprietary fermentation technology in 2004 and, along with Wockhardt, was able to break the monopoly of innovators in insulins by offering indigenously manufactured affordable alternatives, thus enhancing access to this life-saving therapy. 

Over the years, Biocon has successfully launched two novel biologics and five biosimilar products aimed at cancer, diabetes and autoimmune diseases, making these advanced therapies available to a large patient population. Today, there are a select few companies such as Dr. Reddy’s Labs, Zydus Cadila, Intas Pharma, Reliance Life Sciences, Lupin, etc., which are active in the area of complex biologics/biosimilars. The biotechnology sector is evolving fast and it promises to transform healthcare, agriculture and environmental management, leading to the dawn of the ‘Biotechnology Age’. 

By 2030, the Indian bio-economy sector is expected to attain a size of $200 billion. I foresee the intelligent use of data to transform global health. India’s highly developed software skills offer a unique Bio-IT opportunity to mine, analyse and interpret data and create algorithms that can match therapies with the diagnosis. There is also considerable excitement over the promise of targeted genome editing technologies like CRISPR CAS9, which can potentially prevent several diseases, including some cancers, and prevent specific genetic anomalies from being passed on to future generations. 

I believe, by 2050, cancer will become manageable through advances in the field of immuno-oncology, which works by stimulating an immune response against malignant tumours, thus replacing the need for chemotherapy and radiotherapy. 

Biotechnology in agriculture and farming has the potential to address numerous challenges associated with food security in India. Just as the commercial cultivation of genetically modified cotton in India, starting 2002, helped convert the country from a net importer to a net exporter of cotton, selective propagation of genes that improve yields and are resistant to pests, flooding and drought, could make food cheaper, more nutritious and abundant. 

Bioremediation techniques, which offer a cheaper alternative to conventional cleaning technologies, can be used to address the impending global crisis in the area of water and energy. Application of technologies like the ones being developed by Sea6 Energy, will help harness the potential of the oceans to provide solutions in energy, agriculture and feed, thus helping restore the ecological balance.

This article originally appeared in September 2, 2017 issue of Business World Magazine.

Wednesday, 19 April 2017

Delivering Affordable Innovation through Scientific Excellence

19th of April is a historic day for India’s space mission. On this day, 42 years ago, ISRO launched the first Indian satellite Aryabhata. Indigenously designed and fabricated in India, Aryabhata was, to paraphrase the legendary Neil Armstrong, “one small step for ISRO, one giant leap for India’s satellite technology.” 

That India’s maiden satellite was named after the legendary astronomer and mathematician, Aryabhata, is only befitting. In the 5th Century B.C., Aryabhata successfully calculated the diameter of the earth and the moon, proposed that the earth rotated on its axis and determined the value of Pi up to the fourth decimal place, among other things. It is this deep knowledge of advanced maths and science that made India the global knowledge hub of the ancient world, drawing scholars from distant lands to its universities at Nalanda and Taksashila.

Centuries later, in 1947, while delivering his historic “tryst with destiny” speech our first Prime Minister Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru referred to the need of leveraging India’s historic connect with science and technology for the task of nation building.

Two decades later in 1969, when Dr Vikram Sarabhai, the founding father of India’s space program, took charge of ISRO, he made an inspiring statement which was prophetic… “There are some who question the relevance of space activities in a developing nation... But we are convinced that if we are to play a meaningful role nationally, and in the community of nations, we must be second to none in the application of advanced technologies to the real problems of man and society.”

As a developing economy, India’s budget for space science was modest, which evoked a lot of scepticism about our country’s capability. Even today, ISRO has a budget which is a tenth of NASA, yet it has propelled India into a leadership position in space research.

ISRO’s soaring achievements may have taken the world by surprise and what’s more, they have demonstrated India’s potential to drive ‘affordable innovation’ that can deliver high value with frugal resources.

Thanks to ISRO, what India has achieved in space technology is not only world class, it is world beating! India has been able to scale the heights of success driven by a scientific team on a “mission mode” led by inspirational leaders like Dr. Vikram Sarabhai, Prof. Satish Dhawan, Prof. U.R. Rao, Dr. K. Kasturirangan, Shri G. Madhavan Nair, Dr. K. Radhakrishnan, Shri A.S. Kiran Kumar and Dr M Annadurai!

The legendary Dr APJ Abdul Kalam had also contributed to the scientific excellence of this great institution. He drove India's first indigenous Satellite Launch Vehicle program (SLV-III) and the Polar Satellite Launch Vehicle (PSLV) project during his two-decade association with ISRO.

Today ISRO is proof of what inspirational leadership can achieve with frugal resources!

Just two months ago, ISRO helped India script history by successfully launching a record 104 satellites into orbit using a single rocket, beating the previous record of 37 satellites deployed by Russia in 2014.

ISRO: Championing Affordable Innovation

Forty-two years ago when ISRO launched Aryabhata it had to start from scratch as India lacked the kind of sophisticated infrastructure that Western nations had. Aryabhata was built in a period of 30 months by a young team of scientists and engineers at a project cost of a little more than Rs 3 crore.

In the succeeding four decades, ISRO has stuck to its philosophy of ‘affordable innovation’.

India’s Mars Orbiter Mission was without doubt the cheapest inter-planetary mission ever to be undertaken since Martian exploration began. ISRO designed, built and launched the Mangalyaan space probe for US$74 million, which is nearly a tenth of NASA’s Mars probe Maven! It was even cheaper than the US$100-million spent in producing the Hollywood space drama Gravity! As our Honourable Prime Minister Shri Narendra Modi had pointed out, the 650 million km journey to Mars cost India a mere Rs 7 per kilometre, less that a Rs 10 per km auto ride in Ahmedabad! The frugality of its Mars orbiter notwithstanding, India stunned the world when it became the first nation ever to have succeeded in reaching the Red Planet in its maiden attempt!  This was indeed a phenomenal milestone which saw every Indian bursting with pride. 

Navigation with Indian Constellation, or NAVIC, the program that put India among the elite group of nations to have their own satellite navigation systems, was also a feat of cost-effective space engineering! At US$350 million, India spent less money on their entire satellite navigation network than the cost overrun of Galileo, the European satellite navigation network project!

Even ISRO's 2008 Moon Mission, Chandrayaan I, at a cost of ~US$100 million, was a feat in itself considering no other country had succeeded in executing a lunar mission for less than US$500 million. More importantly, ISRO’s affordable innovation succeeded in collecting data that confirmed the presence of water on the moon!

ISRO: Breaking the Colonial Mindset

By championing the ‘Innovate in India’ mantra, ISRO has boosted our self-belief as a nation. For too long, we have been prisoners of a colonial mindset with low levels of confidence in our own capabilities which has led us to look at the West for scientific validation.

Through its pursuit of excellence, ISRO has created a powerful and formidable brand for India, which is about leadership in science & technology and innovation excellence!

ISRO’s emergence as a frontrunner in the growing private space market has led countries like US, UK, Germany, Canada, Japan, Switzerland, France, Denmark, Israel, the Netherlands, Belgium, Italy and several others to seek India’s help for satellite launch services. It’s interesting to note that of the 180 foreign satellites launched by ISRO since 1999, more than half belonged to the US!

ISRO is today a byword for world-beating scientific excellence! It has helped India stake a claim as an exclusive member of the global space club. We are now ranked among the world’s top 6 space faring nations in terms of technological capabilities!

I remember that In the 1960s and 1970s every single scientist who wanted to pursue space research aspired to go to NASA. Only a few remained in India and not by choice I may add. This exodus of Indian scientists is reflected in the large representation of people of Indian origin at NASA!

However, it is an entirely different picture today. The first choice for many of the current generation of Indian space researchers is ISRO! And I wouldn’t be surprised if we witness the return of a large number of the Indian diaspora at NASA so that they can be part of this great space mission that our nation has embarked on!

ISRO: Looking at Greater Private Sector Participation

As India’s space program gains momentum and stature, ISRO plans to increasingly outsource space science services to the private sector and ensure that its own scientists and engineers focus on space exploration and research.

While ISRO has a nearly 30-year-old partnership with the Indian industry, the private sector's contribution has largely been restricted to fabrication, testing and assembling. Under the banner of ‘Make in India’, ISRO is now entrusting Indian companies with the task of building rockets and satellites!

The push for greater private sector participation is also in sync with the larger efforts of ISRO to augment capabilities and tap the growing commercial market for space-based surveillance, remote sensing and telecommunication.

By collaborating with India Inc., ISRO can create a robust space industry which can carve out a bigger slice of the estimated US$300 billion-plus global civilian space market, leveraging India’s innovative, vibrant and tech savvy entrepreneurial ecosystem.  If Richard Branson’s Virgin Galactic and Elon Musk’s Space-X are dreaming big in terms of space tourism, so can Indian entrepreneurs.

Satellites Can Help India Leapfrog into a Digital Future

Today ISRO is helping India address several socio-economic and developmental needs of the country using space technology.  ISRO has already taken the benefits of the space technology to the remotest of Indian villages to address the basic needs in education, health, nutrition, and drinking and irrigation water.

Going forward, ISRO’s satellites can play a big role in realizing India’s aspiration of transforming itself into a country empowered by digital technologies.

It took 20 years for India to have the first 100 million Internet users, but the next 100 million users will come in less than three years. To cater to rising demand, it is imperative to look beyond the traditional modes of internet delivery to space-based solutions. Satellite internet can provide an economical solution to most of the challenges faced by ground infrastructure like optical fibres.

In fact, satellite-based Internet systems can prove more effective at distributing Internet broadband capacity over a large area as well as reduce congestion in already overloaded networks, thus improving the quality of service provided by mobile networks.

Space-based technologies can be integrated into 5G systems to help take advanced Internet of Things (IoT) applications to regions that are beyond the reach of terrestrial networks.

Going forward, ISRO plans planetary exploration missions, a reusable launch vehicle, and a program to send astronauts into space in the coming years.

Space science is going to be a new industrial sector for India. This can be a differentiated ‘Make in India’ story with high scientific skills and technological capabilities. This will open up huge demand for scientific and engineering skills, creating new jobs.

India's pursuit of cutting-edge space technologies, which had started off as a national mission is now becoming a large national enterprise, with the potential to spur sustainable and inclusive economic growth.

 Biocon’s Journey of Affordable Innovation for Global Impact

When I reflect on my own entrepreneurial journey, I find lot of parallels between ISRO’s march to the forefront of global space exploration and Biocon’s ambition to become one of the most recognized Indian names in the global biotechnology sector.

I am very proud that our company is today considered to be among the world-beating innovators in biopharmaceuticals.

As a pioneering biopharma enterprise, Biocon has been among the first in India to invest in developing recombinant DNA and bio-processing technologies that can deliver innovative and affordable biologics. We have focused relentlessly on chronic disease spaces like diabetes, cancer and autoimmune conditions, marked by unmet needs. Our mission is to develop drugs that can be labelled “blockbusters” not because they can earn a billion dollars but because they are affordable enough to benefit a billion patients!

Like ISRO, we have leveraged India’s value advantage of unmatched scientific talent and cost-competitive manufacturing to deliver scale, speed and quality. We have indigenously developed innovative technologies, which offer us a global competitive edge. We have adopted a business mantra of ‘highest quality at the lowest cost.’

Just as ISRO has made transformational impact through space technology, my company, Biocon, has harnessed the potential of Biotechnology to make a huge difference through affordable insulins, and cancer drugs for the benefit of patients the world over.

ISRO & Team Indus: Working to Put India on the Moon

ISRO’s triumphs in space science have fired up the best and the brightest minds in India to contribute to this emerging narrative of technical and scientific excellence. This is evident from an innovative start-up venture, Team Indus which is attempting to create space history by becoming the first private enterprise in the world to not only build and land a spacecraft on the moon but have a rover ride the surface.

What is equally interesting is how India is approaching the unfolding ‘Moon Race’ by following a dual strategy of a state-funded program in the form of Chandrayaan 2 and a privately-funded moonshot via Team Indus. It is an exciting model of private-public partnership that augurs well for ushering in a whole new and exciting era for space exploration.

Team Indus is scheduled to launch its lunar probe this December on board ISRO’s extended Polar Satellite Launch Vehicle to the moon. It has benefited immensely from its collaboration with ISRO’s scientists who had worked on Chandrayaan 1.

Interestingly, ISRO is also planning to launch Chandrayaan 2 early next year, which includes a large rover to carry out several significant scientific experiments on the moon.

Team Indus is the only Indian team competing for the Google Lunar XPRIZE, which is a global competition to challenge and inspire engineers and entrepreneurs to develop low-cost methods of robotic space exploration.

I firmly believe that a win for Team Indus will be a win for India as this pioneering entrepreneurial effort in space research can inspire scores of others and be the cornerstone of success for India on the world stage.

Women Scientists to the Fore

When India was celebrating the success of its first Mars mission, I was very excited to see the smiling faces of the women scientists of ISRO being splashed all over the media. It was a watershed moment as far as the Indian Space Program is concerned. But, more importantly, it shattered stereotypes about space research and Indian women.

I, myself, had to break many a gender barrier when I started Biocon in 1978 as a young, 25-year-old woman entrepreneur, with no business background and limited financial resources.

This kind of gender bias was not specific to India. Even in Western society, women scientists were pushed to the background despite playing a crucial role in science.

In is noteworthy that in the late 19th century, a group of women, known as ‘Harvard Computers’, helped process astronomical data for Harvard Observatory Director Edward Charles Pickering. In the 1960s, a team of African-American women mathematicians in NASA played a vital role in the US space program. Their stories would have remained untold had it not been for the book and the subsequent Hollywood film 'Hidden Figures' that are based on their extraordinary contributions.

Thankfully, that landscape is changing now as more and more women prove their mettle as engineers, mathematicians, and computer programmers. Scientific organizations are realizing the diversity of thought, creativity and innovation that women bring to the table and this is opening up more opportunities for women scientists.

That is why today we are seeing a large representation of women in the innovation ecosystem of India. One-third of the 3,000 entrepreneurial start-ups in the life sciences sector have been founded by women! Over 20% of ISRO's over 16,000 employees are women. In my company, Biocon, over 30% of the 4,000 scientists are women.

I believe, women are an integral part of the scientific community and at ISRO they have played key roles in the numerous successful missions of the agency. It gives me immense pleasure to see many women ISRO scientists to have become household names, today.

While Indian-origin space pioneers like Kalpana Chawla and Suneeta Williams have been an inspiration, many girls today are aspiring to follow in the footsteps of an Anuradha TK, a Nandini Harinath, a  Valarmathi or a Tessy Thomas!


Now that ISRO has built credibility through world-beating scientific excellence the path ahead towards global leadership is going to be extremely exciting.

ISRO has proven beyond doubt that it is not about the amount of money you invest but it is about the scientific conviction and passion that you display which can help you reach for the stars!

ISRO, is truly a shining example of ‘mind over matter’ that reflects that if you have the mental acumen of our scientists and engineers, then money doesn’t matter.

ISRO today invokes a sense of national pride for every Indian citizen. It’s an inspirational story of how self-belief and conviction can lead a nation to set new benchmarks in scientific excellence.

By championing cutting-edge space exploration and partnering with innovation-led start-ups in the private sector ISRO can create a starburst of advanced innovation for our country and our future!

- Kiran Mazumdar - Shaw

This 'Aryabhata Lecture' was delivered by Kiran Mazumdar - Shaw at ISRO Satellite Centre, Bengaluru on April 19th on the occasion of Satellite Technology Day.

Monday, 3 April 2017

Digital India Can Propel Us to Double-Digit Growth

Image Source: Google

The new fiscal year promises exciting opportunities for the Indian economy, which is scheduled to bring in a game-changing new reform in the form of the Goods & Services Tax.  Expectations of wider economic reforms, new measures to improve the ease of doing business in India and higher infrastructure investments also augur well for the prospects of economic growth of India, which is the fastest growing major economy in the world today.

Signals emanating from the global economy are also positive. According to economists, 2017 is witnessing synchronous recovery in global growth for the first time since the recession in 2010. Emerging economies remain the main driver of the strengthening global outlook, as they continue to contribute more than three-quarters of total global GDP growth in 2017, according to the International Monetary Fund.

As conditions look favourable for the economy growing at a faster clip, it is time for India to revisit its aspirations of double-digit GDP growth. If we are really serious about achieving this growth pace, we need to focus on the mission of Digital India and leverage the transformative power of a technology-driven economy. 

Digital India Can Transform Lives & Boost Growth

We all know that India suffers from a huge infrastructure deficit. It is estimated that India’s infrastructure could require an investment of up to US$1.7 trillion by the end of the decade, as per the World Bank report.

Investing heavily on infrastructure has time and again proved to be one of the most successful recipes for accelerated economic growth. However, we also know it requires huge capital investment and has a long gestation period. Nevertheless, it cannot be ignored for long. To leapfrog India’s traditional deficit in physical infrastructure, we need to urgently invest in building a strong Information & Communication Technology (ICT) backbone, which will present many unique opportunities by enabling businesses in the areas of financial services, education, healthcare, agriculture, retail etc. and will improve economic conditions in remote areas.  Above all, digital infrastructure growth can empower the government to embrace and enable innovation, provide resources to help increase agricultural productivity as well as enable universal healthcare access. It can also bring financial services to the unbanked rural and underprivileged communities and help fulfil the country’s longstanding goal of ‘education for all’.

Financial Inclusion

India, like the rest of the world, is witnessing a rapid adoption of digital payments. This is being driven by deeper mobile phone penetration, concerted policy action by the Reserve Bank of India and government initiatives like Aadhaar and Jan Dhan Yojana. Demonetisation has also given a decisive push to the adoption of digital payments.

As millions of these Indians adopt digital payment methods they will be able to connect to the formal financial sector as customers and suppliers. 

A report published by the McKinsey Global Institute (MGI) says increased use of technology in the realm of Financial Services could give 300 million Indians access to banking services by 2025 and raise their incomes by up to 30% thanks to better access to credit and the ability to save and make remittances.


The McKinsey report also estimates that remote learning, massive open online courses (MOOCs) and other digital systems could have an economic impact of US$ 60 billion to US$ 90 billion a year by 2025 thanks to higher productivity among a larger number of skilled workers. India could have about 24 million more high-school and college-educated workers and 18 million to 33 million more vocationally trained workers by 2025 as a result of digitization in the education sector.


Disruptive technologies could transform the delivery of public health through remote health services and digitally enabled healthcare workers who can link specialists with patients in rural areas. 

A modern ICT-based universal healthcare system will help leverage modern diagnostics in primary healthcare for early detection and treatment, and telemedicine to bridge the deficit of specialists at the primary care level.  They can also be used for cloud based data collection to collate epidemiological and patient centric data to profile and map the disease burden at the level of the smallest administrative unit. 

Comprehensive data bases and disease registries will enable better evaluation of the incidence and diversity of diseases at an epidemiological level and thereby allow for more effective healthcare interventions. This can, in turn, ensure equitable access to healthcare services of assured quality, safety, efficacy and cost effectiveness to all sections of the society.

An ICT-based health delivery model will need strong integration between primary and tertiary care providers. Also, linkages need to be established between health research and national health programs to ensure research findings are leveraged in decision making in public health. 

By 2025, some 400 million of India's poor could get access to better healthcare through technologies that bring medical expertise to modestly skilled health workers in remote areas.


Technology applications in the area of agriculture, like the use of hybrid and GM crops, precision farming, and mobile Internet–based farm-extension and market-information services could raise the incomes of as many as 100 million farmers and bring better nutrition to 300 million to 400 million consumers by 2025.


In the area of energy, smart metering could save US$15-US$20 billion a year by 2025 in reduced transmission losses. Technology can also be used to address India’s infrastructure deficit, with McKinsey estimating these interventions could help India build 10 million more affordable homes by 2025. 

Digital India has a huge role to play in spurring economic growth. India needs to embrace technology to deliver superior and sustainable solutions for a better life and a brighter future and ignite the entrepreneurial energy of today’s youth. If India can leverage the transformational power of technology through innovation, human ingenuity and, above all, effective leadership, it will be able to achieve sustainable double-digit economic growth. 

Kiran Mazumdar - Shaw

Tuesday, 7 March 2017

Smart Women Pursuing Smart Science

Image Credit:
A couple of years ago, India celebrated the success of its first Mars mission and I was very excited to see the smiling faces of the women staff of Indian Space Research Organization (ISRO) being splashed all over the media. It was a watershed moment as far as the Indian Space Program is concerned. But, more importantly, it shattered stereotypes about space research and Indian women. These are boom times for Indian science. In the last few years, science and technology, as a sector, has been receiving a lot of national spending with a lot of new universities and institutes that promotes science education and research coming up in the near future in India.

One aspect of scientific development in India that comes across as a pleasant surprise is the active participation and representation of women in the field of science and technology. If former Indian president Dr. A.P.J. Abdul Kalam was known as the ‘Missile Man’ of India, we have Tessy Thomas who is known as the ‘Missile Woman’ of India. She is the first woman scientist to head a missile project in India. Likewise, we have many more encouraging examples where women have broken the glass ceiling and made a mark in their respective fields. Today, 8 of the Top 10 Banks in India are headed by women and 12% of India’s 5,100 pilots are women.

However, stepping into the male-dominated domain of Indian science is not easy for a woman researcher. Women in science continue to have an incredibly difficult time being treated fairly because of the unfair system and sexism. And I can say this by drawing examples from my own life experience. The mind-set of the society is that women are less capable of understanding science, although all evidence is to the contrary. I faced seemingly insurmountable road-blocks on my path to building Biocon into the enterprise it is today. Initially, I had credibility challenges where I couldn't get banks to fund me; I couldn't recruit people to work for a woman boss. I can credit my success to my education and upbringing that had helped instil a strong sense of self-belief and a never-say-die spirit in me.

In India, women face discrimination when it comes to scientific institutions and science education. A new study by UNESCO outlining the involvement of women in science has some stark figures for India. As per a report by the UNESCO Institute for Statistics (UIS), 44% of bachelor students are female while 41% get till the doctoral level. The report further states that women researchers show a tendency to work in the academic and government sectors while men dominate the private research sector, which offers better salaries and opportunities for advancement. Moreover, as per a latest report by the World Economic Forum, only 14.3% of science researchers in India are women. The proportion is worse than that in several West Asian countries like Bahrain, where women account for 41.3% of researchers in science.

The Road Ahead

India is aggressively working towards establishing itself as a leader in industrialisation and technological development. The Government of India, through the Science, Technology and Innovation (STI) Policy-2013, among other things, aspires to position India among the world’s top five scientific powers. If India has to realise this dream, women have to take a central stage. They need to capitalize on their inherent qualities of compassion, sensitivity, multi-tasking and above all, the inner strength to excel. Coupled with their hard work and perseverance, women can achieve anything they set their minds on.

Kiran Mazumdar - Shaw