April 9, 2006 The first day of Bio 2006 also brought a press conference with Indian government officials, including Kapil Sibal, Minister for Science and Technology, Dr. M.K. Bhan, Secretary to the Government of India within the Ministry of Science and Technology's Department of Biotech, and delegation chair Dr. Swati Piramal, director of strategic alliances for the Indian drug company, Nicholas Piramal. Also in attendance were Arun Kumar, the Consul General of India based in Chicago, Ramesh Adige, Ranbaxy Lab's corporate affairs director, Charles Caprariello, vice president for Ranbaxy's U.S. subsidiary, as well as Malathi Lakshmi Kumaran, a financial and legal consultant, one of whose specialties is "patent mapping." [I'd asked her if she used computer programs such as Eureka to help with this daunting task---after all, the number of Indian patents filed has moved from 4,000 to 18,000 in three years--- she says her staff use IT, but that manual, bibliographic mapping tends to yield better results]. Both Ms. Piramal and Ms. Kumaran represent major change in India and the rise of female entrepreneurs and scientist/managers to top ranking positions. The fact that more women are achieving prominence in science and business in India is often lost in the media's incessant focus on the negatives. Push to innovation India's pharma industry is growing at a dizzying pace as it moves from a base in generics and process patents to developing new compounds. Bio is a small but growing part of the picture. Including industrial and ag bio, as well as biopharma, India's bio market is now worth over $1 billion, it should move to $3.5 billion in 2-3 years, and $5 billion in five years. The Patent Act of 2005 has brought with it tremendous change, with a growing number of individuals starting their own companies, filing patents and looking at new drugs. "They're not looking at reverse engineering or alternative delivery, but at developing new chemical entities, and this is a seminal change," Piramal said. More global companies are taking part in India's market by setting up partnerships in which they share IP. Nicholas Piramal, which once operated exclusively in India, is expanding globally; currently 22 scientists from different countries are working on R&D projects with the company. As Minister Sibal explained, biotech will be the key to addressing India's food productivity challenges as well as new, more virulent forms of diseases, and the government is fostering innovation through partnerships, incentives, incubators. Safety, and assuring highest safety standards will be one priority. Taking stock of a rich heritage and Ayurvedic therapies India is also beginning to leverage thousands of years of knowledge in traditional medicine, taking stock of its Ayurvedic healing tradition and exploring how it can be translated into new drugs. At the heart of all this work, Minister Sibal said, is the human being, rather than any political agenda or national imperative. People working in a united world as members of a global community, are on a "global mission." "Drug discovery and development defy the laws of economics," he said, as science flows across borders. Interdisciplinary Research, on the Super-Fast Track To accomplish its ambitious goals, India has realized that it needs to develop a new approach to research. A recent article in the American Chemical Society's Chemical and Engineering News highlighted the challenges ahead. However, as Dr. Bahn explained, the government realizes the drawbacks and is developing a new approach based on "teamwork" rather than individual performance, and an interdisciplinary model that will bring together chemists, biologists, M.D.'s, engineers and mathematicians. The government is also "retooling" its university programs to reflect this new approach. Modest plans include:
- Doubling the number of Ph.D.'s in life sciences over the next six years
- Enhancing the tech workforce through multidisciplinary training.
- And, most dramatic of all, the government will establish 50 centers of excellence over the next five years, to advance the concept of interdisciplinary R&D.