The segment, however, is facing problems related to quality parameters as well as infrastructure

From the day it played host to the first biotech company to produce a locally-developed recombinant DNA-derived healthcare product in 1997 -- Hepatitis B vaccine -- Andhra Pradesh, known as the pharmaceutical hub of the country, has come a long way to become the biopharmaceutical capital of India.

The fledgling segment, however, is facing several problems related to quality parameters as well as infrastructure that would accelerate its growth. While the State is reckoned as the pioneer of the biotechnology industry setting up the Genome Valley, housing laboratories of several industry majors, it is also home to some unwelcome developments like suspension of procurement of certain vaccines by the World Health Organisation.

The Genome Valley cluster is currently housing about 200 biotech research, training and manufacturing units supported by world-class infrastructure and another 200 units are spread in different parts of the State. A couple of lakhs square feet area in the Genome Valley is exclusively dedicated for the laboratory space.

The flip side, however, is suspension of procurement of Revac B, the hepatitis B vaccine, manufactured by Bharat Biotech by the WHO after a site inspection. The procurement was suspended as certain deficiencies were found in manufacturing systems and quality management practices. Another pentavalent vaccine rolled out by Biotech major, Shantha Biotech, was recalled earlier as there were certain lacunae in the good manufacturing practices.

Coupled with these are the problems relating to power and roads for accessing the industry and branding of biotechnology sector along with the highly polluting pharmaceutical companies.

The entrepreneurs made no secret of their disappointment when they raised the issues in the presence of Chief Minister N. Kiran Kumar Reddy during the BioAsia 2012 that was held here last week.

A home to leading names like Shantha Biotech, Bharat Bio and GVK Biosciences, the State made impressive strides in another area, though indirectly related, enabling setting up of bio-informatics, using IT as tool for designing and development of new molecules. There is, however, a gap in giving fillip to allied sectors like bio-industrial and bio-services.

Bharat Biotech chairman Krishna M. Ella said the State witnessed investments close to US $ 500 million (Rs. 2,500 crore) and is all set to grow six-fold in the next five years. “Industry slow down has nothing do with political problems as the State's policies have continuity irrespective of change of governments,” he noted.

Another advantage AP has for the growth of biotechnology industry is the support it gets from numerous research institutions such as the prestigious Centre for Cellular and Molecular Biology (CCMB), National Institute of Nutrition (NIN), ICRISAT, Centre for DNA Fingerprinting and Diagnostics (CDFD), Directorate of Rice Research (DRR) and others which provide access to high-level talent to industry and teaching institutions.

Notwithstanding this progress, the government should continue to play a significant role in the advancement of this high-tech and capital-intensive industry. In particular, the State Government can help the industry by ensuring access to efficient infrastructure to make it strong and viable player in the global arena”, says Harish V. Iyer, Managing Director of Shantha Biotech.

The industry, however, has several unfulfilled demands like incentives to biotech companies setting up their shop in the State, encouragement to those opting for research and development (given the fact that the market is worth over US $ 15 billion) and facilitating faster collaboration between the companies, relaxing some regulations.

The State, no doubt, has huge human resource potential, but when it comes to fields like biotechnology which involve cutting edge research, the youth need to be trained in practical skills, says GVK Biosciences president Manni Kantipudi.