In the past two decades, India has positioned itself as a major Information Technology (IT) service provider to the world. I would like to share my perspectives as an Indian national, living in Japan for the past 18 years, being a clinician and also involved in stem cell research. I have a stake in a biotech (BT) organization, and I’ve been watching the trend of IT vs BT in India. I would say India has a long way to go in making breakthroughs in BT. People might have thought the boom of IT will be followed by that of BT, but I guess that is wrong.
First, the IT products are for a vast array of day-to-day life activities, starting with maintenance of accounts in a small shop to running inventory in a big business to patient records in a hospital. These products don’t require stringent approvals. BT, however, is in various avenues, starting with food industry and moving to liquor and medicines. And cell-based products or vaccines need to go through a series of stringent processes of safety and efficacy testing, including clinical trials. Approvals here take time, and therefore failures could also be many. This makes only those who are prepared for long battles be the survivors in the BT field. In IT, a simple idea that simplifies the remote-control operation of a computer or similar household device could be a breakthrough, straight away.
Secondly, the number of middle-level jobs are many in IT, whereas BT needs a few brilliant minds to trigger innovation, which have to be proved as a concept. Even then, an acceptable product comes only after long incubation periods, and that may not create many middle-level jobs. This has made the younger generation of workers prefer IT over BT in India, evidenced by the number of institutes and aspiring graduate students in IT field vs BT.
Thirdly, BT requires several core essentials, such as original technologies in materials, processes and methodologies, which take decades to develop. On these pillars, subsequent product development processes are built. Going by the number of original publications, patents and projects of research that have been accomplished in India, our path to original and successful BT products is obviously longer than the accomplished nations, who have started their ground work several decades ago.
One needs to accept the difference in the fabric of these two fields, which makes them a world apart. To achieve and accomplish in BT, one needs a long-term vision and strategies, rather than short-term goals and expectations. India needs perseverance on carefully planned work protocols, rather than giving up easily when research fails, and it needs professionals driven by passion, rather than pressure. But we should start all this today, as tomorrow is one day late.