New Delhi: Serving the twin purposes of providing affordable drugs to patients and making Indian biotech industry globally competitive, the department of biotechnology (DBT) will soon unveil biosimilar drugs for diseases such as cancer, diabetes and rheumatoid arthritis.

A biosimilar is a biologic medical product which is almost an identical copy of an original product that is manufactured by a different company. Biosimilars are officially approved versions of original “innovator" products, and can be manufactured when the original product’s patent ends.

“With manufacturing of indigenous drugs, an ecosystem will be created for innovative indigenous product development by researchers, startups and SMEs to make Indian biotech industry globally competitive. India which today occupies only 3% of the global market aims to reach 5% by 2022," said Renu Swarup, senior adviser and scientist, department of biotechnology, ministry of science and technology.

According to a recent report by India Brand Equity Foundation (IBEF) under department of commerce, ministry of commerce and industry, there is a market shift to diseases like cardiac conditions, diabetes and cancer which have treatment options with complex biotech drugs. A rise in number and quality of tertiary care centres is leading to greater usage of biotech products. “In India, there is a large pool of patients that consumes these drugs. With biosimilars, the indigenous drugs will be available at a much less price which will in turn benefit patients in the long run," said Swarup.

“The government has approved a Biopharma Mission for production of indigenous and affordable Vaccines, Biotherapeutics and Medical devices. Apart from manufacturing biosimilar drug we will also manufacture vaccines for dengue, pneumococcal and Human papillomavirus (HPV) indigenously," she said.

According to government, the Indian biopharmaceutical industry is around 10-15 years behind its counterparts in the developed countries and faces stiff competition from China and South Korea in respect of innovation. According to the Global Innovation Index, India ranks 81 out of 140—way below China (rank 29) and South Korea (rank 14).

Union minister for science and technology Dr. Harsh Vardhan launched innovate in India (i3) programme last week under which research and development of biosimilar drugs and other vaccines will take place. The flagship program of the government in collaboration with World Bank will be implemented by Biotechnology Industry Research Assistance Council (BIRAC), a public sector enterprise, set up by DBT.

Biosimilars in India currently primarily include insulin, erthropoietin, chorionic gonadotropin, streptokinase, interferon and heparin. The market is growing fast—there were only 14 biosimilar drugs available in 50 brands in 2005 and the number increased to 20 such drugs in 250 brands in 2011. There are around 100 private biopharmaceutical companies engaged in research and development, manufacturing and marketing of biosimilar products in India.

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