Stem cell research in India

By UK India Business Council (UKIBC)

Worldwide, academics and physicians have taken a huge interest in the cures that stem cell technology may have to offer.

In India, the story of stem cell research is only just getting started. A sub-segment of the biotechnology industry, the stem cell sector is increasingly using clinical trials on ailments such as cardiac, arthritis and gastro-intestinal among others. Stem cell properties such as their internal repair mechanism and ability to divide to replenish other cells are key features that, it is believed, could be used to treat diseases like Alzheimer’s or Parkinson’s.

A potential market for stem cells in India is likely to generate demand for related products, services and technologies.

India is currently in the top-ten list of countries already deeply involved in stem cell research, and is emerging as a potential player. The Indian stem cell industry was estimated to be worth around US$ 540 million in 2010 and the market, fueled by investments, is poised to grow at an annual rate of 15%. Meanwhile, the global stem cell industry is estimated to reach US$ 60 billion by 2015, growing from US$ 21 billion in 2010.

The market in India is still in its early stages with only a few players as of now. However, entry by major global players would no doubt boost the country’s medical tourism in the coming years.

As the benefits of stem cell research become clearer, the sector is likely to see rapid growth. India’s competitive market which offers low-costs and a talented workforce will no doubt capture the attention of industry players worldwide who may soon be looking for opportunities in mergers and acquisitions.

Huge foreign investments are expected in major Asian economies in the stem cell space, with India poised to take the lead with a 25% FDI CAGR by 2015. Growth could be further aided should the Indian government put business-friendly policies into place, for example like the US orphan drug status scheme.

The key private players in India in the stem cell market are: Reliance Life Sciences, Life Cell, Cryobanks India, Stempeutics and Trans-Scell Biologics. At the moment, however, Indian government institutes are carrying out the bulk of the stem cell research with a focus on adult stem cell. The Indian government has proactively invested and has been promoting work in the area, particularly on clinical trials, basic research and applications. Several companies and private institutions involved in research also do the work of carrying this to market.

India’s leading stem cell research institute is the National Centre for Biological Sciences (NCBS), located in Bangalore. Another facility has also been set up by the Centre for Cellular and Molecular Biology in Hyderabad. Other well-known research centres include: AIIMS, New Delhi; L.V.Prasad Eye Institute, Hyderabad; Center for Stem Cell Research, Vellore; National Brain Research Centre, New Delhi; and the National Centre for Cell Science, Pune.

Given the high incidence of heart attack, strokes and blindness, the research focus areas in most of the above institutes are: regeneration of damaged muscles following heart attack, stroke or cornea damage.

100% FDI is allowed under the automatic route for both research and development services as well as health-related services. Two major healthcare companies have already entered India’s stem cell market via partnerships:

  • To test adult-derived stem cell research in cardiovascular therapies, Johnson & Johnson tied up with Neuronyx; and,
  • Novo Nordisk, with its wholly-owned subsidiary Zymogenetics, is working on generating beta cells for transplantation and stem cell factors for oncology and blood and immune application systems.

The 4th International conference on Stem Cells and cancer (ICSCC-2013) will take place in Mumbai, India from 19-20 October 2013. For more information, click here.

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