There is surge in startups in Biotechnology & Diagnostics segment in India: Rajeev Nair, Global Head of Chemistry, Life Science business, Merck

India is the sixth largest economy in the world with 2.7Trillon US$ nominal GDP. There is tremendous potential for the Life Science Industry in both domestic and global markets, Rajeev Nair told Financial

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Rajeev Nair, Global Head of Chemistry in the Life Science business of Merck

The way we perceive diseases and treatments has changed a lot in recent years. Higher life expectancy, lifestyle changes, pandemic, increasing health consciousness, and changes in disease patterns have inspired companies to focus on improving the quality of life. Merck India which is part of the Merck Group headquartered in Darmstadt, Germany is a science and technology company operating across healthcare, life science, and electronics. From advancing gene-editing technologies and discovering unique ways to treat the most challenging diseases to enabling the intelligence of devices – the company is everywhere. Now, the company is planning to bring global trends to the Indian shores, since the country is a priority market for the Group. Financial reached out to Rajeev Nair, Global Head of Chemistry, Life Science business, Merck and he talked about how Merck can contribute to the Indian healthcare segment, how Merck Group as an organisation can help bring about preparedness into Indian businesses, and recent trends in the pharmaceutical segment among others. Excerpts:
How has the focus of research and development changed among companies providing services in science and technology post the COVID-19 pandemic?

The last few years have been very interesting for the life science industry. With aging population and increasing average life expectancies, companies have started focusing on innovation with an aim to improve the quality of life. COVID-19 taught us that through strong global collaboration we can accelerate research to find solutions through science to save humanity. It also showed the world the gaping holes in healthcare systems and pandemic preparedness along with the need to build robust primary healthcare infrastructure and investing in R&D & pharma manufacturing. The use of machine learning & artificial intelligence in drug discovery, increasing investments in finding sustainable alternatives and leveraging new modalities like cell & gene therapy are the key industry trends that we have observed.
What are the key areas in the Indian healthcare and pharmaceutical sectors that are now Merck India’s priority? According to you, what are the immediate steps the country needs to take to become self-sufficient and self-reliant in these areas?

India is a one of the fastest growing economies in the world. During the Covid-19 pandemic, vaccine & pharmaceutical industry of India played a crucial role in addressing various challenges ranging from diagnostics kits manufacturing to vaccines development. We can also see a surge in startups in the Biotechnology & Diagnostics segment in India. This is a transforming ecosystem, and the Life Science business of Merck considers it as our priority to support the country in accelerating this transformation. Our expertise in Chemistry, Biology and BioPharma research to manufacturing can be leveraged by the pharma industry, academic & research institutes.

The Pharma value chain is based on strong partnerships and collaboration. Startups, academic research labs, pharmaceutical companies, Contract Research Organizations (CROs) and Life Science technologies companies, like us, have a role to play in this ecosystem. We need to strengthen this value chain through supply chain security, digital transformation and sustainability focus.

What are the recent developments in Merck’s products and how do they contribute – directly or indirectly to India’s healthcare, pharma and biopharma sector? What are the recent initiatives that Merck has taken in the field of life science and how does it affect India?

With a portfolio of more than 300,000 products focused on scientific discovery, biomanufacturing and testing services, the Life Science business of Merck is a leading, global supplier of tools, chemicals and equipment for academic labs, biotech, biopharmaceutical manufacturers, and the industrial sector. Together with our customers, our purpose is to positively impact life and health with science. With a strong focus on innovation, we are committed to delivering the products, services, and digital solutions to create a sustainable future for generations to come. – we come up with hundreds of product launches every year. I will share a few examples…. For accelerating drug discovery, we have introduced the computer-aided retrosynthesis design platform SYNTHIA™. Chemists can use SYNTHIA™ to drastically reduce the time required to find and execute viable synthetic routes to known and novel molecules. It utilizes an ever-growing database of expert-coded rules and sophisticated algorithms to allow scientists to shorten the time required to design a pathway – from weeks to mere minutes or hours.

Another launch in the space of Chemistry, currently available only to U.S. and Western Europe but launching soon in India , is our inventory management tool LANEXO™, which can help labs in digitalization of the lab inventory processes in a regulated environment with traceability, avoiding time spent on repetitive, error-prone operational tasks. We also recently made investments in India for the manufacturing of custom bulk products, catalysts and solvents to enhance supply security for Pharma customers.

What are some of the trends that Indian pharma and biopharma companies need to be cognizant of? Learnings from global companies?

Sustainability is an area that should be at the top of mind for our industry. New global regulations in various geographies give emphasis on reducing or eliminating the use of varying levels of hazardous chemicals and substances. Focus on bringing processes with greener alternatives can become a competitive advantage for India. Through its leading approach to product design and manufacturing, more than 1,200 products of the life science business of Merck represent greener alternatives to conventional applications.
COVID-19 had changed the landscape of all industries. How had it impacted the biotech and life science industries?

The impact of Covid-19 for the Biotech and Life Science industry has been mixed. Funding for academic research has been negatively impacted and focus has been on Covid-19 related product development. Now it is the Industry’s role to refocus on projects for various disease indications and new modalities. Three area of priority are:

-Reorganisation of supply chain & building supply security

-Government & policy makers are focusing on revisiting regulatory norms and developing local capabilities for vaccine & pharma development / manufacturing

-Accelerated digital transformation & technology adoption
What is the potential for life science industry in India? What are some of the areas companies interested in this space – Startups, companies should watch out for?

India is the sixth largest economy in the world with 2.7Trillon US$ nominal GDP. There is tremendous potential for the Life Science Industry in both domestic and global markets. India can build on the strong foundation created in pharma manufacturing to achieve the aspiration of becoming the pharmacy of the world. There is a large talent pool of researchers in the Chemistry and Biology space in India. India can combine its strengths in various areas to elevate the sector. For example, India can be hub of digital solutions and services for Life science by combining talents in AI, machine learning along with Chemistry & Biology. Vaccine and Pharma Industry can evolve towards novel molecules discovery by partnering with start-ups.

Anything else that you would like to add?

Merck has been in India for over five decades and invested in various areas to accelerate scientific research and pharmaceutical market growth. We are investing in life sciences skill development programs for students through our Experience labs in the country. We are always interested to find new collaborations and partnerships to contribute to the country’s growth.

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