The power of a billion | India’s Genome Project and Future of Precision medicine

What if you were prescribed treatment based on your genetic makeup, environment and lifestyle? This is already a reality and the practice is called precision medicine or personalized medicine. Essentially, this means your genes determine the...

What if you were prescribed treatment based on your genetic makeup, environment and lifestyle? This is already a reality and the practice is called precision medicine or personalized medicine. Essentially, this means your genes determine the treatment you receive. The treatment is, of course, based on the results of a slew of diagnostic tests which can zero in on the genetic changes happening in our body cells. Essentially, precision medicine is personalized or stratified therapy to improve the treatment effectiveness based on a patient’s unique genetic characteristics, lifestyle, health history and diet. The origin of precision medicine lies in the advances made in the field of biotechnology, including gene sequencing and big data. Precision medicine is in contrast to a “one size fits all” approach, which develops treatment and prevention methods for the average population, with little to no consideration for the genetic differences between individuals.

Genome India project | Scope of precision medicine in India

The Genome India Project aims to map the diversity of India’s genetic pool and lay the bedrock of precision medicine to enable greater medicinal efficiency in terms of preventive interventions and customized treatments. The project is funded by Indian Department of Biotechnology (Rs 238 crore = 291 million SEK in 2020), but is a collaboration between 20 Indian research institutions, where the Indian Institute of Science’s Centre for Brain Research will be serving as its nodal point.

In its first stage, the project will develop a reference Indian genome using genetic samples from 10,000 persons across India. During stage two, another batch of 10,000 of samples with diseases of three broad categories — non-communicable diseases like cardio-vascular and diabetes, mental illnesses and cancer — will be collected.

By identifying and unraveling the genetic basis and prevalence of rare and inherited diseases, the project intends to simulate better diagnosis and treatments that can later feed into the Indian health care system. Better diagnosis and treatments are vital to alleviate the many profound physical, psychological and social impacts of diseases. This is vital also from an economic perspective as most of healthcare costs are paid not out of insurance, but out of pockets. For example, it is reported that Indians witness a loss of around $23 billion from their annual income in getting tested and treated for non-communicable diseases.

Image by Chokniti Khongchum.

Opportunities in India | What’s in it for Sweden?

Given the diverse population, India has a particular need for precision medicine. Infectious diseases, cardio-metabolic diseases, cancer and rare genetic disorders have been identified as priority areas for precision medicine – areas where Sweden has renowned expertise. This opens doors for Sweden to work jointly with India to address this challenge and co-develop the future of precision medicine. India’s burgeoning biotechnology sector, a thriving culture of start-ups, a large skilled workforce, and an openness to embrace new ideas, all make India, ‘the place to be’. With many Indian companies now developing ambitious precision medicine research activities the time is just right for Sweden to promote its strengths in areas such as molecular profiling and AI solutions.

Sweden also has much to gain from learning from India in implementing its own Life Science strategy and attracting expertise from India to Sweden. Talent attraction is likely to play an important role in the future success of the life science sector in Sweden as many companies lack the right expertise to develop and grow their businesses.

The advancement and success of precision medicine, in Sweden as well as in other countries, depends on access to genomic and molecular data. Countries like India could potentially generate tremendous volumes of data. Such data would help researchers and healthcare professionals to study and better understand disease wise genetic variations and develop better treatments. There is a potential to exchange research insights and data between Indian and Swedish organizations and engage in joint training and education programmes to help embed precision medicine principles in research practice, as well as at clinical, industry and policy levels.

Moreover, the global genomics industry is predicted to grow at around 18% in the next 10 years, and India is expected to be a major stakeholder. Being able to access commercial opportunities in the Indian healthcare system could be of huge benefit to Sweden and support scale-up production efforts and technology adaptation opportunities.  

Image by Kelly Lacy,

Know more about Sweden’s Precision Medicine sector

Sweden, with its long tradition in biomolecular research and its comprehensive biobanks and quality registers, is very well positioned as a frontrunner in the field of precision medicine. Major investments in life science capabilities have been made during recent years and cutting-edge research infrastructure is already in place and open for international collaboration. In Sweden, companies focused in the area of precision medicine are clustered in five major regions, with the capital region Stockholm-Uppsala home to almost 50 %. More than one fourth of the companies are located in the southern Malmö-Lund region, followed by 14 % in the Gothenburg region and 7 % in the Umeå region. Linköping region also hosts 5 % of the companies, mainly within imaging technologies. Many of these companies are actively pursuing international collaboration and partnerships.

Karolinska University Hospital, Sweden. Cecilia Larsson Lantz/

Stay in touch

If you work in the life sciences area in academia, industry or government and wish to explore how Swedish and Indian expertise and technology can collaborate, please reach out to us! We would be more than happy to guide you in the right direction.

Are you interested in getting more information about Swedish life science capabilities and cutting-edge research infrastructure, take a look at this snapshot by Business Sweden, or read the Swedish Precision Medicine Industry Guide to get an overview of the Swedish industry landscape.  

Remember to follow us on Twitter for more updates on Sweden-India R&I collaboration! Greetings from the OSI-India Team.

Fanny von Heland, Leena Kukreja and Mini Nair

The other institutes involved in India’s genome project are: AIIMS Jodhpur; Centre for Cellular and Molecular Biology, Hyderabad; Centre for DNA Fingerprinting and Diagnostics; Institute of Genomics and Integrative Biology; Gujarat Biotechnology Research Centre; IIIT Allahabad; IISER (Pune); IIT Madras; IIT Delhi; IIT Jodhpur; Institute of Bioresources And Sustainable Development; Institute of Life Sciences; Mizoram University; National Centre for Biological Sciences; National Institute of Biomedical Genomics; National Institute of Mental Health and Neurosciences; Rajiv Gandhi Centre for Biotechnology; and Sher-e-Kashmir Institute of Medical Sciences.