A statement made by the Medical Education Minister suggesting a “temporary ban” on clinical trials of drugs in the State stirred up a hornets' nest among biotech and pharma companies even as the Chief Minister attempted to allay their fears.

Addressing top representatives of biotech and pharma companies at the inauguration of the Bangalore Bio 2011 on Wednesday, Chief Minister B.S. Yeddyurappa assured them that “Karnataka is committed to drug development and we will ensure that trials continue without any interruption”.

On Tuesday, Minister S.A. Ramdas had told presspersons that the lack of regulatory guidelines for drug trials allowed the industry to treat patients “like guinea pigs” adding that clinical trials would be suspended until rigorous guidelines are framed.

The Chief Minister, who wished to “set the record straight”, said: “I came across news reports that drug trials will be suspended in the State. No such steps will be taken. The Medical Education Minister was only responding to concerns from certain quarters.”

Earlier in the day, Kiran Mazumdar-Shaw, Chairman and Managing Director of Biocon Ltd., said drug trials are conducted on the basis of transparency and accountability in Karnataka and in the rest of the country, and urged the State Government to “ensure that we do not give up on trials as they are an important part of drug innovation”.

In his key note address delivered via video, M.K. Bhan, Secretary, Department of Biotechnology, Union Ministry of Science and Technology, said a ‘Clinical Drug Trial and Support Agency' will be set up to connect medical institutes with industries that are looking to test their drugs. This will include a training academy for principal investigators, 200 of who will be trained in the next five years.

For the first time, ‘sector-specific' biotech parks will be set up across the State in Tier-II cities, said V.S. Acharya, Minister for IT & BT and Higher Education. These include an agri-biotech park in Dharwad (with the University of Agricultural Sciences), a marine park in Mangalore (with the State Fisheries Department), a veterinary park at Bidar (with the Veterinary University) and a nutraceuticals and pharma products park in Mysore (along with the Central Food Technological Research Institute).

Bio-venture fund

A $10-million Bio-Venture Fund will also be established for incubating start-ups in high-technology areas, he said, adding that another $5-million research fund will be set up to develop products for applications in pharma and agriculture sectors.

Awards worth Rs. 1 crore were given to 12 biotechnology finishing schools, set up in various academic institutes around the State, to address talent shortage in the sector.