US–India Collaborative Innovations for Rapid Drug Discovery

Jitendra Kumar

June 12, 2024

10 Min Read

Technology is a key driver in the deepening partnership between the United States and India. This collaboration has a longstanding history: The two countries have cooperated previously in critical areas such as disease control and surveillance, laboratory integration, and enhancement of public-health capacities (1). In recent years, that collaboration has intensified, especially in the field of biotechnology. Joint efforts now focus on using artificial intelligence (AI) for matching patients with treatments, applying nanotechnology for targeted drug delivery, and improving bioinformatic tools for comprehensive data analysis. Given the complexity of such initiatives, a collaborative approach will be crucial to accelerate outcomes in research, development, and drug discovery. The ongoing US–India connection could advance research significantly in those areas by fostering swift progress in biotechnology and healthcare, particularly in rapid drug discovery (RDD).

The typical drug-discovery process is time-consuming and financially intensive, often spanning several years and incurring billions of dollars in costs. From 2009 to 2018, estimated median capitalized research and development (R&D) costs per product stood at $1.1 billion in the United States, including expenses for unsuccessful drug trials (2). Collaborative initiatives must be adopted to shorten timelines and lower costs in the creation of life-saving drugs. Incorporating advanced technologies can improve R&D process efficiencies.

The global drug-discovery market is valued at $55.46 billion and projected to increase to about $133.11 billion by 2032 (3). Today, US–India trades and investments help to facilitate global growth, with bilateral trade exceeding $191 billion in 2022, nearly doubling the value in 2014 (3). Innovations resulting from the US–India partnership could shape the future of global health.

Forging Research Partnerships

Both US- and India-based pharmaceutical companies must continue to make rapid advances in drug discovery. The two countries recognize the promise of cooperative research in science and innovation and, as a result, have formed a research partnership between the US National Science Foundation (US-NSF) and the Indian Department of Biotechnology (DBT) (4). That partnership and subsequent implementation agreements establish groundwork for collaboration to expedite innovations in biotechnology and biomanufacturing (5). The initiative aims to propel knowledge and investigations through partnered research, empowering biotechnology industries and fostering global bioeconomies.

Such partnerships could expand international collaboration in several areas, including AI, quantum technologies (QTs), and advanced wireless capabilities. One partnership, the US–India Quantum Coordination Mechanism, leverages participation from industry, academia, and government to facilitate R&D.

Similarly, the US–India initiative on Critical and Emerging Technology (iCET) has called for proposals on transformative AI and QTs. The Indo–US Science and Technology Forum (IUSSTF) also is offering a grant of $2 million for this program. The forum will select and support commercially viable and socially relevant US–India initiatives in technology innovation and entrepreneurship. Joint projects originate from government, academic, and commercial facilities. Many such initiatives aid in the advancements of underlying technologies, with use cases in RDD and delivery.

To support those goals, the Indian government has allocated $71.37 billion to fund a National Quantum Mission (NQM). It will contribute resources to scientific and industrial research for QTs (6).

Joint Investments in Technologies: In the past five years, the US-NSF has invested nearly $150 million to over 200 projects in India (7). In 2022 alone, the NSF launched 35 emerging-technology projects with India’s Department of Science and Technology (S&T). Joint funding has strengthened the foundation of cooperation, collaboration, and investment in science and engineering by providing opportunities for discovery and innovation across life-science industries. The US-NSF also has agreed to provide funding for joint projects in applied research areas while building on existing arrangements. Many of the technology fields receiving US-NSF investment can address society’s most pressing challenges, spur economic growth, and advance technologies in critical research areas.

India’s Pharmaceutical Sector: Within months of the COVID-19 pandemic outbreak, the world recognized India’s efforts to support the healthcare efforts of other nations. The Indian government quickly provided medical diagnostic and test kits, infrared thermometers, and personal protective equipment (PPE). As a result of those swift actions, India has been hailed as the “pharmacy of the world” (8). To address increasing demands for smart technology and RDD, the country has invested in building improved infrastructure. The Indian pharmaceutical industry has grown steadily in domestic and foreign markets over the past two decades (9). By 2030, it is expected to be valued at $130 billion. As the industry embraces digital tools such as AI, it can create faster go-to-market capabilities. The United States and India also are cooperating in AI innovations and addressing challenges in the field through platforms such as the US–India Artificial Intelligence Initiative (USIAI).

AI plays an important role in streamlining RDD and accelerating overall drug-development processes. Nanotechnology and bioinformatics are two fields that leverage AI in such processes. Nanotechnology plays a vital role in developing diagnostic tools for early disease detection, whereas bioinformatics applies computational tools and techniques to analyze and interpret biological data. Alongside AI, those applications offer toolkits for developing effective, targeted healthcare. US–India collaborative efforts in the realm of technology indicate a commitment to advancing these transformative fields.

India houses more than 800 biotechnology companies, increasing employment opportunities. The value of the country’s bioeconomy stood at $137.2 billion in 2022 (10) and is estimated to reach $300 billion by 2030 (11). The US pharmaceutical industry can access growing talent and rapid R&D in India. Start-ups are expected to lead much of the predicted growth by developing innovative technology solutions in drug discovery and delivery.

Building an Innovative Ecosystem

The US–India collaboration provides opportunities for cooperation in the development and production of emerging technologies. For example, companies are offered a “soft landing” when they establish research and biomanufacturing facilities in India. Innovation requires networks of experts and mentors alongside capacity-building initiatives that are specialized in local common access infrastructure. The resulting ecosystem provides resource hubs for the biotechnology sector, with support for industry players, investors, and other stakeholders to promote entrepreneurship and innovation.

India intends to assist large biopharmaceutical companies by providing supportive environments to establish facilities. The ecosystem will include corporate–start-up partnerships that help to apply global best practices. Other sectors available for investors to choose from include medical devices, agriculture, and environmental sciences.

Scientists showcased India’s potential in those fields at the Global Bio-India 2023 conference, organized by India’s Department of Biotechnology and the Biotechnology Industry Research Assistance Council (BIRAC). Japanese drug maker Takeda signed a three-year agreement with BIRAC, committing to provide advisory and mentoring support to innovators and entrepreneurs (12). BIRAC also signed agreements with German company Miltenyi Biotec to collaborate in R&D for immunology, stem-cell research, and cell and gene therapy (CGT). The partnership aims to expand CGT products and services from discovery stages to commercialization. Both organizations will enhance research and clinical capabilities for CGTs and establish capacities for good manufacturing practice (GMP). The collaboration will create specialized training forums for Indian clinicians, establish centers of excellence for CGTs, and share advanced technology to accelerate the development of patient-focused therapies, particularly for cancer (13). Such programs intend to assist young entrepreneurs from ideation to the market entry of healthcare solutions. Similarly, biotechnology-based incubation centers in India have formed the Global Bio-incubators Network within BIRAC to promote collaboration as well. That network focuses on drug-delivery advancements in the biotechnology sector.

Symbiotic Partnerships: India stands to benefit significantly from technological advancements in the United States, which in turn can access lucrative and more affordable market opportunities offered by India. Consider the global magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) equipment industry, which reached a value $6.13 billion in 2022 and is predicted to attain $10.53 billion by 2031 (14). The market is dominated by large multinational brands with an 80% market share. Despite significant industry growth, however, 70% of the world’s population still lacks access to MRI machines. Factors driving their increased adoption include technological advancements and the rising prevalence of chronic diseases. However, the high cost of traditional MRI scanners remains a significant barrier.

Indian company Voxelgrid (funded and mentored by BIRAC) unveiled an advanced, affordable MRI scanner in 2023 that can increase healthcare accessibility not only in India, but also around the world (15). The scanner is more affordable than its traditional counterparts, breaking down access barriers for millions of people previously unable to afford an MRI procedure. The machine is priced at about $400,000, a fraction of the $670,000–1,200,000 cost of conventional 1.5T whole-body scanners. That substantial cost difference could create a profound impact on healthcare accessibility across the world.

To unlock the US–India partnership’s potential fully, clear and balanced frameworks for intellectual property (IP) protection must be implemented. Open-source knowledge alongside robust IP frameworks can ensure that both countries benefit by accelerating innovation. The US–India partnership in the biotechnology, healthcare, and biomanufacturing sectors is currently in its early stages. However, the potential for global rewards is immense. Solutions that can be developed from the resulting collaborations not only will pave the way for advancements in several fields, but also could help shape a future that transcends borders and brings global change. As these two nations continue to pool their expertise, resources, and shared visions for progress, they can leave a lasting positive imprint on the global biotechnology and healthcare landscapes.

The United States is a financial powerhouse for funding innovations and providing growth capital; India is home to a substantial market with a constantly rising innovation index (16). Both countries must leverage each other’s strengths to solve pressing healthcare problems around the globe.


1 CDC and India. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: Atlanta, GA, 2021;

2 Wouters OJ, McKee M, Luyten J. Estimated Research and Development Investment Needed To Bring a New Medicine to Market, 2009–2018. JAMA 323(9) 2020: 844–853;

3 Drug Discovery Market — Global Industry Analysis, Size, Share, Growth, Trends, Regional Outlook, and Forecast 2023–2032. Precedence Research: Ottawa, Canada, 2023;

4 Fact Sheet: United States and India Elevate Strategic Partnership with the initiative on Critical and Emerging Technology (iCET). The White House: Washington, DC, 31 January 2023;

5 DBT Signs Implementation Arrangement with United States-National Science Foundation. BioSpectrum, 24 August 2023;

6 Industry Will Be Expected To Be a Major Resource Contributor in All the Future Start-Up Ventures and Other New Technology Initiatives, Says Union Minister Dr. Jitendra Singh. Ministry of Science and Technology: New Delhi, India, 5 October 2023;

7 NSF Director Panchanathan Heads the US Delegation at the G20 Chief Science Advisers’ Roundtable in India, Signs Bilateral Agreement. US National Science Foundation: Alexandria, VA, 31 August 2023;

8 Avhad P. The Indian Pharmaceutical Industry: The “Pharmacy of the World?” Deloitte: London, UK, 20 March 2020;

9 How the Indian Pharmaceutical Industry May Transform Post Pandemic. EY India: New Delhi, India, 25 February 2021;

10 India Bioeconomy Report 2023. BIRAC: New Delhi, India, December 2023;

11 Global Biotechnology - Market Size, Industry Analysis, Trends and Forecasts (2024-2029). IBISWorld: New York City, NY, September 2023;

12 Takeda and BIRAC Forge Alliance To Propel Healthcare Solutions Development. The Hindu Business Line: Chennai, India, 5 December 2023;

13 Global Bio-India 2023 Sets New Target of $200 B for Bioeconomy in 2025. BioSpectrum, 4 December 2023;

14 Global Magnetic Resonance Imaging Equipment Market Report and Forecast 2023–2031. Research and Markets: Dublin, Ireland, April 2023;

15 Game-Changing Indian MRI Scanner Launched: Targets 6 Billion People Without Access to Cutting-Edge Imaging Technologies. BioSpace: West Des Moines, IA, 7 August 2023;

16 India Retains 40th Rank in the Global Innovation Index 2023. NITI Aayog: New Delhi, India, 28 September 2023;

Jitendra Kumar, PhD, is managing director at the Biotechnology Industry Research Assistance Council (BIRAC), 5th Floor, NSIC Business Park, NSIC Bhawan, Okhla Industrial Estate, New Delhi, India, 110020. For inquiries, please contact [email protected].

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