Navigating Future of Life Sciences Clusters in India

31 December 2023 | Views | By Vishal Goel, Managing Director, Rx Propellant

In the dynamic landscape of global healthcare, India emerges as a promising frontier for life sciences clusters, offering a unique blend of challenges and opportunities. Globally, it is recognised within the top 12 biotechnology destinations and ranks third in the Asia-Pacific region. India’s BioEconomy exceeds a valuation of $92 billion in 2022, driven by bioinnovation and biomanufacturing. Estimates show the market is likely to reach a robust compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 13 per cent, reaching $427 billion by 2030. At the cusp of 2024, stakeholders must understand the intricacies of this sector as well as its potential to not only revolutionise healthcare but also stimulate economic growth. Let’s dig deeper.

Life sciences clusters in India play a pivotal role in ensuring creating and sustaining this momentum to foster innovation, drive research collaboration, and serve as catalysts for sustained economic prosperity. India, with its vast and diverse population, is on the precipice of a healthcare revolution. The life sciences sector, comprising pharmaceuticals, biotechnology, and medical technology, has witnessed unprecedented growth in recent years. This surge in demand positions India as a key market and an attractive location for fostering innovation and developing solutions. Government policies further support this measure, actively promoting a conducive environment for businesses. 

Challenges on the Horizon

While the canvas appears ripe for transformation, navigating the challenges accompanying this journey is crucial for success. Some hurdles faced by the life sciences clusters include:

Regulatory Complexities: The regulatory framework in India, while evolving, can be intricate and time-consuming. Navigating through approvals, compliance, and licensing processes requires a nuanced understanding of the regulatory landscape. According to the Global Innovation Index (GII) report, published by the World Intellectual Property Organisation (WIPO) every year, India’s regulatory environment ranks 68th. 

Infrastructure Deficits: The development of life sciences clusters hinges on robust infrastructure, from state-of-the-art research facilities to efficient transportation networks. Investing in such infrastructure is imperative for attracting top talent, fostering research excellence, and promoting seamless collaboration between academia and industry. As the country aims to emerge as an R&D hub, world-class infrastructure will play a key role in attracting companies to both establish and expand their footprint here. A concerted effort is needed to bridge existing gaps and position India as a global life sciences hub.

Talent Acquisition and Retention: The life sciences sector demands a highly skilled and specialised workforce. Attracting and retaining top-tier talent is a challenge that must be addressed strategically. A high-level committee developing science & technology (S&T) clusters in India helmed by the Office of the Principal Scientific Adviser and NITI Aayog notes that as of 2018, India had 156 researchers per million citizens, about a tenth of the global average of 1,500, and much lower than China and the U.S, where the numbers are 1,096 and 4,217 researchers per million people, respectively. Lack of intellectual assets is a shortcoming that educational institutions, in collaboration with industry players, should address by designing programmes that align with the evolving needs of the sector, ensuring a steady supply of skilled professionals.


Opportunities to Excel Unveiled

The hallmark of successful clusters is the high level of organic activity in which stakeholders experiment with different models of collaboration and partnership, with a willingness to try new models and not fear failure. India has four primary clusters for science & technology companies, including life sciences, in the top 100, where Bengaluru ranks 56, Delhi 64, Chennai 83, and Mumbai 84. When harnessed judiciously, the challenges of cluster-based infrastructure can pave the way for opportunities that can transform the life sciences landscape here into a thriving ecosystem of innovation and growth.

Global Collaborations: The interconnected nature of the life sciences industry opens avenues for global collaborations. India’s immense market potential has been drawing some MNCs, who play a pivotal role in boosting innovation at various levels. By facilitating collaborative ventures with local entities and undertaking knowledge exchange, they create an environment ripe for innovation, navigating complex global regulatory frameworks all the while. Indian life sciences clusters can strategically partner with international counterparts, fostering knowledge exchange, joint research initiatives, and cross-border investments. This accelerates innovation while enhancing the global standing of the Indian life sciences sector.

Innovation Ecosystems: Life sciences clusters provide fertile ground for innovation ecosystems to flourish. By creating environments that encourage interdisciplinary collaboration, including partnerships with technology firms and startups, clusters can serve as incubators for groundbreaking ideas. Incubation programmes, funding mechanisms, and mentorship initiatives will be vital in nurturing the next generation of healthcare innovators. Strengthening local and state-level innovation should be a priority, an area where Karnataka has made a head start. Its pioneering Research, Development, and Innovation Policy recommends this as a focus area to nurture the S&T cluster in Bengaluru and incubate other similar clusters in the state. The state has recently launched an Rs 25 crore-strong deep tech cluster seed fund to nurture startups that can significantly impact the capabilities of the life sciences sector too. 

Market Access and Affordability: India's life sciences clusters can act as a gateway to diverse markets, aiding in clinical trials and market access. It also presents an opportunity to diversify the life sciences portfolio by incorporating traditional medicine and biotechnology to cater to a broader spectrum of healthcare needs for India's vast and diverse population, a unique market for life sciences products and services. The development of clusters should be aligned with strategies to improve market access and affordability. This includes initiatives to reduce the cost of healthcare delivery, increase the penetration of advanced medical technologies, and enhance the accessibility of life-saving pharmaceuticals.

As they expand, life sciences clusters generate employment spanning R&D, manufacturing, marketing, and sales, reducing unemployment and fostering socio-economic development. A thriving sector positions India as a key global player, capitalising on cost-effective manufacturing and a skilled workforce. This enhances exports, fortifying the nation's economic resilience. Investments in education, research, and development within these clusters contribute to a knowledge-driven economy, attracting foreign investments and establishing India as a frontrunner in the global knowledge economy. 

The future of life sciences clusters in India is both a challenge and an opportunity—a canvas awaiting the strokes of strategic vision and collaborative efforts. We must embark on this transformative journey, catalysing a brighter and healthier future for the nation.


Vishal Goel, Managing Director, Rx Propellant


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