India is recognised as a strong R&D hub, with global companies and innovators making greater investments for reasons including quality of talent, innovation mindset, better access to emerging markets and overall cost benefit. In fact, cost benefit has now become an outcome rather than a primary focus point of medical device R&D investment.
But to keep pace global R&D medical device marketplace, we must anticipate global needs and create products that address existing and future challenges. This requires us to continue developing the skill set of our talented workforce, tapping into the strength of our mature national software and IT industry in areas like digital health, and responding to an industry shift away from outsourcing in favour of in-house resources.
Three clear trends augur well for the R&D industry in India in the year ahead. It is time to ask ourselves: are we ready to make the most of these opportunities in the year ahead ?
Three pathways to improve medical device R&D
1. Embrace disruption by digital technology:
The growing penetration of digital technology is disrupting established business models. Once seen as just an enabler, digital technology is now recognised as a future business growth driver. Connected devices and wearable technologies demonstrate great potential for preventive healthcare and represent an evolving healthcare delivery model. They exemplify the convergence of fields such as personal health, medical devices and artificial intelligence, all of which require sound digital knowledge and expertise.
For companies to be successful in this changing R&D landscape, they require forward-thinking strategies that embrace the power of digitisation. It does help that India has a strong talent base in software, which allows us to drive quick wins and enhance the overall credibility of our operations.
2. Expand approach to talent development :
The fact is that while India does have a strong talent base in software and engineering, this talent is still evolving. A clear ‘innovation gap’ exists in India and bigger investment in the field is the need of the hour. The medical device industry is highly dependent on technical expertise and demands development of innovative products to continue on a profitable growth path.
The Indian medical device industry is only three decades old, and the R&D centre investments were initiated by multinational companies (MNCs) as late as in the mid to late nineties. Current university syllabi and programmes must be more dynamic to take on the challenges of the future. Our universities need investment in enabling technology platforms like micro-electro-mechanical systems (MEMS), implantables, nanotechnology and material sciences. Our progress in scientific research and training over the past few years has been good. Today, India’s scientific research institutions outscore China, Brazil and Russia in terms of quality of research.iii
With increased public investment in education and R&D, India has jumped six points in higher education and training (75th position) and three points in technological readiness (107th position) in the last two years. But we are still a long way from realising our full potential. India is on the path to being a global leader in technology and R&D, and our biggest challenge now is to devise industry strategies to sustain this rapid progress.
3. Strengthen in-house capabilities :
Companies are moving from the outsourcing model to developing their own global in-house capability centres (GICs), with GICs evolving to provide niche skills to the parent organisation. With the GIC model, companies are able to combine innovation and scale to support product development for both global and emerging markets. This means we can re-purpose our R&D efforts to meet three key endpoints: India for global, India for the region and India for local. This can help ensure scalability of products and encourage better investment in R&D in the years to come.
Companies with established GICs are now utilising their success to make bigger investments, either by bringing in more functions and services, or by tapping into local manufacturing. Since 2010, the total revenue generated by GICs has gone up 1.7 times to cross $19 billion, and this segment currently employs more than 25 per cent of the industry workforce.
The way forward
The foundation we have laid in medical device R&D needs to be further strengthened by growing our talent pool on multiple levels. We need educational institutions to create a strong and relevant academic framework for innovation, enabling more and more individuals to develop their research and technology skills and give us leverage to compete in a rapidly changing ‘digitised’ world. I am hopeful that together these measures will help us bridge the existing innovation divide and improve the quality of India’s innovation in 2020 and beyond.