Innovations in Biotechnology and Medical Sciences



From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level: Biobanks

Mains level: Transformative potential of Bioeconomy, India's potential and leadership capacity for global south


Central Idea

  • The biotechnology economy, commonly known as the bioeconomy, has experienced significant growth in recent years, driven by advancements in genetic research, healthcare applications, and innovations in food security and bioproduction. However, the responsible collection, storage, and sharing of biological data, particularly in the form of biobanks, necessitate robust governance to ensure equitable access and benefit sharing.

*Relevance of the topic*

India’s participation in healthcare advancements, including vaccine development and deployment, highlights its potential in the bioeconomy.

The pharmaceutical industry, coupled with expertise in medical research, positions India as a global leader in healthcare innovation and the production of drugs and therapies.

Considering its vast populations and challenges in healthcare, personalised healthcare is the need of the hour which makes biobanks is crucial factor for India

What is the biotechnology economy?

  • The biotechnology economy, also known as the bioeconomy, refers to the sector that encompasses various activities related to biotechnology, genetic research, and the utilization of biological resources for industrial and commercial purposes.
  • It encompasses the application of biological knowledge, principles, and techniques to develop innovative products, processes, and services in sectors such as healthcare, agriculture, food production, energy, environmental conservation, and more.
  • The biotechnology economy relies on advancements in genetic engineering, genomics, bioinformatics, and other fields to understand and manipulate biological systems for practical purposes.
  • It involves the development of new drugs, therapies, and medical treatments, the improvement of agricultural crops and livestock, the production of biofuels and renewable materials, and the creation of sustainable solutions for various industries.

India’s potential in the Bioeconomy

  • Bioeconomy Market Value: India’s Bioeconomy Report projects a potential market value of US$300 billion for the bioeconomy in India by 2030. This indicates significant growth and economic prospects in the sector.
  • Biotech Start-up Growth: The number of biotech start-ups in India has witnessed exponential growth, increasing from 50 to over 5,300 in the last ten years. This thriving ecosystem reflects a robust foundation for research, development, and industrial participation in the bioeconomy.
  • Biobanking Landscape: India currently hosts 19 registered biobanks out of a total of 340 global biobanks. This infrastructure plays a crucial role in the collection, preservation, and sharing of biological data for research and development purposes.

Significance of biobanks for India

  • Medical Research and Advancements: Biobanks store biological samples, such as blood, tissue, and DNA, along with associated health information. These samples and data enable researchers to study diseases, understand genetic factors, identify biomarkers, and develop new diagnostic tools and therapies.
  • Disease Understanding and Treatment: By collecting samples and health information from individuals with specific diseases or genetic conditions, biobanks facilitate research on disease etiology, progression, and treatment options.
  • Precision Medicine and Personalized Healthcare: By analyzing genetic and molecular data stored in biobanks, researchers can identify individual variations and develop tailored treatment approaches based on a person’s unique genetic makeup.
  • Public Health and Epidemiology: By analyzing large-scale data sets from biobanks, researchers can identify risk factors, understand disease prevalence, monitor disease trends, and develop strategies for disease prevention and public health interventions.
  • Drug Development and Clinical Trials: Biobanks play a crucial role in drug development and clinical trials. They provide researchers and pharmaceutical companies with access to well-characterized biological samples and associated health data, which are essential for evaluating drug efficacy, safety, and side effects.

Inequitable Data Collection and Benefit Deployment

  • Global South Underrepresentation: The the majority of biobanks are housed in North America and Europe, covering about 95 percent of the biobanks globally. In contrast, the Global South, including India, only hosts approximately 5 percent of the world’s biobanks. This underrepresentation limits the Global South’s participation in health research and the deployment of health initiatives.
  • Research Bias: Due to the concentration of biobanks in the Global North, there is a bias in research and funding, focusing on genetic conditions and diseases that are prevalent in those regions. This bias hamper research on health challenges specific to the Global South, limiting the relevance and applicability of the findings to the populations in these regions.
  • Dissonance in Results: There is a dissonance in using samples from the Global South to cater to health requirements primarily in the Global North. This dissonance implies that research outcomes derived from data collected in the Global South may not adequately address the healthcare needs and challenges faced by the populations in that region.
  • Lack of Equitable Benefit Sharing: The lack of explicit return on results policies leads to inadequate sharing of benefits derived from the data collected in the Global South. The benefits and outcomes of research conducted using biobank data from the Global South are not shared equitably among the countries and populations from which the data originated.
  • Inequities During the Pandemic: The article cites an example of inequity during the COVID-19 pandemic, where the capacity of Afrigen, a biotech firm responsible for vaccine production in Cape Town, was limited due to the desire of private sector participants like Moderna and Pfizer to preserve their knowledge. This resulted in Africa’s reliance on global vaccine manufacturing, with only 1 percent of vaccines consumed on the continent being manufactured within Africa.

India’s contributions and leadership in the bioeconomy

  • Healthcare and Vaccine Development: India has actively contributed to healthcare and vaccine development. The country has been involved in SARS-CoV-2 vaccine development, deployment, and diplomacy. Its expertise and participation have played a crucial role in addressing global health challenges.
  • Global South Representation: India’s involvement in advocating for global South representation in biobanking governance and global platforms demonstrates its commitment to addressing inequities. India’s leadership contributes to fostering collaboration, trust, and fair participation among countries in the Global South.
  • Multilateral Engagement: India’s association with the Quadrilateral Alliance and its G20 presidency provide platforms for global diplomacy and collaboration. These engagements enable India to advocate for global governance structures and mechanisms that promote equitable access, benefit sharing, and funding in the bioeconomy.
  • National Guidelines and Best Practices: India has established guidelines and best practices for biobanking, ethical data storage, sharing, and benefit distribution. The Department of Biotechnology and the Ministry of Science and Technology have played key roles in formulating these guidelines, ensuring responsible practices in the bioeconomy.
  • Exporting Health Information and Data: India has a history of exporting health information and data, which positions it as a contributor to global health initiatives. Leveraging its experience, India can emphasize the prioritization of diseases relevant to the Global South, prevent biopiracy, and establish rules for benefit sharing to benefit countries in these regions.
  • Global Diplomacy and Platforms: India’s involvement in global platforms, such as the G20 presidency, has enabled it to expand its national regulations and contribute to the establishment of a global governance structure for biobanking and data sharing. This allows India to advocate for relief from trust issues, mechanisms for benefit sharing, and incentives for funding in the Global South.

Way forward: Addressing Inequities through Global Governance

  • Global South Representation: There is a need for greater representation of the Global South in global governance structures. This ensures that the specific requirements and perspectives of the Global South are considered in decision-making processes and policies.
  • Global Guidelines for Biobanking: There is need of the formulation of global guidelines for biobanking to establish standards and best practices. These guidelines would address ethical data collection, storage, sharing, and benefit distribution, taking into account the specific needs and concerns of the Global South.
  • Equitable Benefit Sharing: It is important to explicit return on results policies to ensure equitable benefit sharing. These policies would ensure that the benefits derived from data collected in the Global South are shared back with the countries and populations from which the data originated.
  • Collaboration and Knowledge Exchange: Global governance in the bioeconomy should foster collaboration, knowledge exchange, and technology transfer between countries and regions. This collaboration helps address disparities, build trust, and promote capacity-building efforts in the Global South.
  • Addressing Obstacles and Barriers: Global governance should address obstacles and barriers to data hosting, collection, and sharing in the Global South. This may include financial constraints, technological limitations, and infrastructure gaps that hinder effective participation and contribution.
  • Private Sector Engagement:  It is essential to define the role of the private sector in research and emergencies. Global governance should encourage responsible and ethical private sector engagement, fostering investment, innovation, and knowledge sharing in the Global South.


  • The promotion of equitable governance in biobanking is crucial for advancing scientific research, ensuring equitable healthcare, and addressing the unique healthcare challenges faced by the global South. The time is ripe for India to champion this cause and drive transformative change in the field of biobanking on a global scale.

Also read:

Mainstreaming Biodiversity: A Pivotal Step Towards a Sustainable Future

Get an IAS/IPS ranker as your 1: 1 personal mentor for UPSC 2024

Attend Now

Notify of
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments


Join us across Social Media platforms.

💥Mentorship New Batch Launch
💥Mentorship New Batch Launch