Indian pharmaceutical companies must embrace innovation and adopt technology if they are to stay competitive at both domestic and global level, experts say.

"In order to drive faster growth and capitalise on their existing success, Indian pharmaceutical companies must now aim to create true added-value offerings with 'super-generics,' which can deliver additional benefit to patients," says Andrew Barrett, director of medical technology in India at Cambridge Consultants.

"Innovation and technology are key, and the required investments can be recouped because medical products have long lifecycles.  Technology has a great role in drug delivery to extend these lifecycles, add value and, importantly, allow product differentiation in a crowded market place," he added, speaking at a meeting held by Cambridge Consultants in Mumbai, held to discuss whether India can become one of the world's leading pharmaceutical nations by 2030.

Ranking today among the top five globally in terms of production volume, India's pharmaceutical market accounts for over 10% of global drug production. Recent reports suggest that the domestic drug sector will reach a value of $55 billion by 2020, and the Ministry of Health forecasts that India's drug exports will be worth $25 billion by end-2014.

The meeting heard that the Indian pharmaceutical industry still has significant growth opportunities, and major local companies could have the potential to compete with multinationals. The firms making the biggest impact globally will be those which adopt technology innovations to differentiate their products and make them more competitive, both domestically and globally.

This trend for differentiation is particularly important as Indian companies have fewer new generic opportunities, due to the fall in New Chemical Entity (NCE) filings with the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) over the last few years and the fact that the number of innovator drug patents reaching their expiry date has peaked.

Similarly, at a global level there are more generic pharmaceutical developers from other emerging nations, including China, which will offer low-cost competition from India, and there is also the ongoing threat of counterfeit drugs.

"The Indian pharmaceutical market is really at a very exciting yet challenging point, where it can become an even greater contributor to the Indian economy. Indian pharmaceutical companies must remain competitive and look to innovate and adopt technologies that can complement and accelerate the uptake of drugs for better health management," said Dr Cyrus Karkaria, president of the biotech division at Lupin Pharma.

Technology can play a pivotal role in the Indian pharmaceutical industry, as success will be driven by combining drugs with devices and delivery systems rather than by drugs alone, the meeting heard. Indian drugmakers could also benefit from:
- injectable technology: growing numbers of Indian firms are moving into biologics, including biosimilars and biobetters, where injectable therapies predominate due to the greater difficulty of formulating these drugs for oral administration. Injection technologies can provide easier and less painful drug administration;
- inhalation products: inhaled products are already commonplace in the Indian market through major local and multinational products, targeting conditions such as asthma and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD). Indian companies with this pre-existing specialist knowledge are well-placed to develop value-added products using the pulmonary route to deliver systemic drugs:
- medical devices: Indian drugmakers are unlikely to build significant expertise purely in this area. Instead, they could use experienced device design and development consultants to support their significant formulation/chemistry expertise. They have the opportunity to change manufacturing and production methods to support the further adoption of drug delivery device technologies; and
- connected health: against a background of rising healthcare costs, Indian drugmakers can use technology to harvest and use data to bring benefits to healthcare providers and consumers alike. Given India's dominance in IT and software in locations such as Bangalore, a connection could be made between the two industries, placing India in a strong position to become a global player in connected health markets, delegates suggested.