Everything you need to know about the Biotechnology Industry Research Assistance Council (BIRAC)

Biotechnology Industry Research Assistance Council (BIRAC)'s Impact

Everything you need to know about the Biotechnology Industry Research Assistance Council (BIRAC)

BIRAC is an industry-academia interface that carries out its mandate through a wide range of impactful initiatives, such as providing access to risk capital through targeted funding, technology transfer, IP management, and handholding schemes that help biotech firms achieve innovation excellence and become globally competitive. In its eight years of operation, BIRAC has established a number of schemes, networks, and platforms that serve to bridge current gaps in industry-academia innovation research and allow the development of unique, high-quality, inexpensive goods using cutting-edge technology. BIRAC has formed alliances with a number of national and international partners in order to collaborate and deliver on the key elements of its mandate. Prof. Rajesh S. Gokhale is the Secretary of the Department of Biotechnology in the Ministry of Science and Technology of the Government of India. He is now on deputation from the Indian Institute of Science Education and Research (IISER), Pune.

Various programs

Bioincubators Foster Entrepreneurship for Scaling Technologies (Bio-NEST)

BIRAC launched Bio-NEST with the goal of fostering the country’s biotech innovation ecosystem. Unlike startups in the IT sector, enterprising ideas in the biotech sector require a different type of incubation support, such as a landing space to test their ideas, run their operations, have access to high-end instrumentation, and also be situated in a location where they can connect with other startups and mentors. The Bio-NEST programme helps to build bio-incubators as separate entities or as part of academia.

Biotechnology Ignition Grant Scheme

BIG is BIRAC’s flagship initiative, which delivers the dynamic equilibrium of fuel and support to young firms and entrepreneurs. BIG is India’s largest early-stage biotech investment initiative. As part of the initiative, successful innovators receive a grant of up to INR 5 million (approximately USD 70,000) for best-in-class innovative ideas, to build and refine ideas to proof-of-concept.

The orthopaedic plaster brand ‘FractoAid’ developed by a CoEP startup was one of three ideas chosen to receive the BIG award from BIRAC. On April 30, last year, it received an Indian patent.

Students’ Innovations for Translation and Research Advancement (SITARE)

The SITARE Scheme aims to encourage creative student projects in biotechnology. The scheme’s mission is to support and encourage young students to engage in translational research in order to create innovative solutions and technology that meet unmet needs. The SITARE-GYTI Award Grant is not your average research fellowship, it’s a scheme that offers opportunities for orientation, training, and mentoring through residential seminars, among other things.

The E-YUVA initiative is tasked with instilling in young students and researchers a culture of applied research and need-oriented (societal or industry) entrepreneurial innovation. The scheme offers funds (through fellowships and research grants), technical and commercial mentoring, exposure to the bioincubation concept, orientation to an entrepreneurial culture, and other benefits to students at various levels, including undergraduates, postgraduates, and postdoctoral researchers.

The initiative ‘Intensifying the Impact of Industrial Innovation’ (i4) was launched to encourage the development of biotechnological products and technologies by boosting the R&D capacities of start-ups, corporations, and LLPs. It operates via two programs:

Biotechnology Industry Partnership Programme (BIPP)
BIPP is a government-industry collaboration providing cost-sharing support for ground-breaking research in frontier futuristic technology fields. It narrows down projects with significant economic potential, with the goal of making the Indian industry globally competitive. The program is centred on intellectual property creation, with ownership retained by Indian businesses and, when applicable, by collaborating scientists.

Small Business Innovation Research Initiative (SBIRI)
The SBIRI Scheme of the Ministry of Science and Technology’s Department of Biotechnology was introduced in 2005 to strengthen the country’s Public-Private-Partnership (PPP) initiatives. SBIRI was the first of its type, an early-stage, innovation-focused public-private partnership programme in the field of biotechnology. It has helped small and medium-sized businesses’ innovation and risk-taking, as well as brought together the private sector, public institutions, and the government under one roof to encourage research and innovation in the Indian biotech sector.

Promoting Academic Research Conversion to Enterprise (PACE)
BIRAC has developed PACE to encourage & support academia in developing technology or products of societal and national value (up to the PoC stage) and subsequent validation by an industrial partner.

Social Innovation Immersion Program (SIIP)
The immersion programme is a one-of-a-kind social innovation platform that offers clinical and rural immersion as well as financing help for developing prototypes through a small kick-start grant, in addition to a monthly fellowship for young social innovators.

Social Innovation Programme for Products: Affordable & Relevant to Societal Health (SPARSH)
SPARSH’s mission is to foster the development of novel solutions to society’s most serious social challenges. The programme addresses key societal concerns and proposes novel solutions for mass change. The initiative aims to invest in ideas and technologies that improve health care for all Indians and support the development of economical social products.

Sustainable Entrepreneurship and Enterprise Development Fund (SEED Fund)
Bio-incubation empowers businesses to realise their entrepreneurial potential by offering access to infrastructure, mentoring, and networking platforms. It assists young entities in thriving by offering specialised support services during the key stage of a business endeavour, namely the start-up phase.

Launching Entrepreneurial Driven Affordable Products (LEAP Fund)
While bioincubators offer support to companies’ space, services, and knowledge requirements, there is a significant gap in the financial support required for a technology-driven start-up in its early stages. The LEAP Fund project of BIRAC intends to address this demand primarily through incubators.

Accelerating Entrepreneurs Fund (AcE Fund)
The biotech startup journey, particularly for first-time entrepreneurs, is fraught with obstacles, both technological and business-related, such as developing a business plan and market entry strategies, navigating regulatory hurdles, connecting with and pitching to VCs, and networking with future stakeholders. Within the biotech world, there is a growing recognition of the value of concentrated mentorship in accelerating nascent biotech start-ups.

BIRAC also organizes competitions in collaboration with its incubation centres for acknowledgement and recognition of projects in the industry.  For example, every year, the Centre for Cellular and Molecular Platforms – a government of India-supported entity – organises the NBEC as a C CAMP-BIRAC collaborative endeavour to recruit, discover, and foster game-changing deep scientific concepts with commercial potential. In 2021, Snehal Jamalpure of Agarkar Research Institute in Pune received a cash prize of 2 lakh INR for a field-ready sensor system for quick detection and real-time monitoring of viral infections impacting aquaculture.

The present BIRAC schemes successfully support product development, rigorous validation, and pre-commercialization. BIRAC also offers various other programs that fund research and development.  The goal of BIRAC is to play a revolutionary and catalytic role in the development of a $100 billion Indian bioeconomy. Through numerous funding schemes like as BIG, BIPP, SBIRI, PACE, IIPME, and SPARSH, BIRAC promotes product and technology development by Indian start-ups in many areas of biotechnology for the flourishment of the biotech sector in the nation.