The $2.1-billion PerkinElmer Inc is a global leader in the healthcare sector, having presence in more than 150 countries. Since 1981, it is serving customers in India, spanning a wide range of markets, including diagnostics, pharmaceutical, food safety, agriculture, chemical, plastics and automotive. The company established its direct operations in India in 2004 and has invested over $100 million to build its local manufacturing unit here under the ‘Make in India’ initiative. In an exclusive interview with Sanjeev Sinha, Prahlad Singh, Senior Vice President and President-Diagnostics, PerkinElmer, talks about the National Health Policy 2017 and shares his business outlook. Excerpts:
The Government of India has come up with the ‘National Health Policy 2017.’ What’s your take on the new health policy?
The new health policy is very encouraging as it advocates a progressively incremental assurance-based approach for GDP allocation increase to 2.5%. Furthermore, the policy looks at reforms to the existing regulatory systems both for drugs and devices manufacturing to promote ‘Make in India’ and also to reform medical education. India needs to continue its focus on strengthening infrastructure, enhancing accessibility of its health facilities, and improving the quality of service delivery. This year, the new public procurement policy was also introduced, helping local manufacturers and suppliers of goods and services to better align with the government’s ‘Make in India’ initiative by giving them a purchasing preference in all public procurement procedures. However, the public procurement or purchase system in India is ‘cost centric’ rather than ‘value- conscious’. Induction of any new technology involves significant capital investment, but there are certain areas such as maternal health and newborn health where the government should give due preference to the ‘quality’ of goods and services.
The government has also launched its ambitious ‘Make in India’ program and the new health policy has given special focus to this. How can PerkinElmer be a part of this ‘transformational’ program?
We truly appreciate various initiatives taken by the government during the last couple of years, particularly the Make in India initiative that aims to facilitate investment, foster innovation, enhance skill development, protect intellectual property and build a best-in-class manufacturing infrastructure. This program is aligned with the Prime Minister’s vision of turning India into a global manufacturing hub. From a technological point of view, India is catching up with the western markets in terms of manufacturing. Analysts say that if India’s manufacturing sector realized its full potential, it could generate 25 to 30 percent of GDP by 2025. There is an inherent need for superior technology and quality in India that is already being used elsewhere in the advanced world. Though the initial associated investment may appear high, its results and returns could justify these upfront costs. Therefore, we will continue to bring ‘high end’ technology innovations to India.
Skilled workforce is a problem for India’s healthcare spectrum. Through its ‘Skill India’ program, the government has started to address this challenge. What are your views on the importance of skilled workforce for the healthcare sector?
The availability of a skilled workforce in the healthcare sector remains a barrier to universal health coverage in India. In addition to focusing on quantitative skill development initiatives, there is also a need to focus on qualitative skill development initiatives in the healthcare sector. While medical and para-medical education opportunities have shown tremendous growth, both in public and private institutions, there is an urgent need for better enforcement of minimum standards. India should focus heavily on upgrading technical skills of the workforce for advanced healthcare services. The private sector could be involved to meet public health goals through partnerships and collaborations.
The new policy recommends strengthening regulation of medical devices and establishing a regulatory body for medical devices to unleash innovation and the entrepreneurial spirit of manufacturing medical devices in India. As the President of PerkinElmer’s diagnostics business, what is your opinion on the medical device manufacturing industry in India and the government’s focus on redefining this sector?
The introduction of the new Medical Devices Rules in 2017 was much awaited by the key stakeholders of the industry, and these rules are expected to have a far-reaching impact. The industry will experience a much-needed boost and increase the visibility and sales of Indian medical devices as well as attract more foreign direct investment. As expected, however, the businesses involved with medical devices will require some time to implement rules in their business systems.
Both the Central and most of the state governments have realized the importance of nurturing start-ups and innovators for encouraging entrepreneurship and generating employment. How can PerkinElmer be a part of India’s startup and innovation transformation?
A: With so many start-ups and innovators emerging in the healthcare industy, it is important that they are able to utilize state-of-the-art instrumentation, infrastructure, support and application knowledge to bring their research and innovations to the next level. I think there’s a need for the industry to engage not only in financing the start-ups, but also in the initial step of understanding the readiness and potential of the market prior to the scaling up/commercialization stage. The industry must also prepare business models including competitive mechanisms for revenue. PerkinElmer is committed to contributing to national health policies in India and state government initiatives, bringing technology advancement, innovation and quality in healthcare service delivery. We continue to collaborate and welcome partnerships with various government agencies, like the Indian Council of Medical Research, the Biotechnology Industry Research Assistance Council, the Indian Institute for Technology. We also continue to work closely with professional associations to help meet young entrepreneurial researchers’ needs as they work toward advancing their science and developing transformational solutions.
What is your view of the Indian market and what are PerkinElmer’s plans for India?
A: India is one of the top geographic areas of focus for PerkinElmer’s strategic investments. In the last few years, we have invested over $100 million to build our local manufacturing in India under the ‘Make in India’ initiative. We now have three manufacturing sites in India: two in Goa and one in Uttarakhand. We also set up a PerkinElmer service lab in Chennai that offers early biochemistry screening, cytogenetics testing, and molecular diagnostics testing. This laboratory underscores our commitment to our continued expansion plans in India, and provides a hands-on experience with our technologies. We are also further supporting India’s healthcare requirements, including committing to expanding our infectious disease screening menu and capabilities. Guided by the seven industry partnership models of National Skill Development Corporation, Government of India, PerkinElmer plans to set up Centres of Excellence focused on science and innovation in the health sector that are of strategic importance to the National Skill Mission. With the right opportunity being available, we foresee a similar level of investment being made in India in the coming years. Our objective is to build capacity of local manufacturing, R&D capabilities in diagnostic and environmental screening, and skill development of young healthcare professionals in biotechnology, pharma and life sciences in India.