From disease diagnosis, stem cell research, development of vaccines and precision drugs to value-added fish products and aquaculture technology, the potential opportunities for research and investment in life sciences were highlighted at a conference organised by the Kerala State Industrial Development Corporation (KSIDC) here on Tuesday.

Inaugurating the event, Chief Minister Oommen Chandy said the Life Sciences Park coming up at Thonnakkal, near here, offered Kerala an opportunity to take an early lead over other States and make up for what it had lost in the information technology sector. He said the State could make use of the expertise and manpower in institutions such as the Regional Cancer Centre, Rajiv Gandhi Centre for Biotechnology, Jawaharlal Nehru Tropical Botanic Garden and Research Institute, and Central Marine Fisheries Research Institute to forge ahead in life sciences.

In his keynote address, Minister for Industries P.K. Kunhalikutty said the Life Sciences Park would become operational in two-and-a-half years.

KSIDC Managing Director Tom Jose said the park would foster research-oriented studies based on life sciences to ensure better quality of life and living conditions. He stressed the need for better collaboration between industry and academia in the State’s endeavour to become one of the top biotech destinations in the country.

Presiding over the first technical session, Kerala University of Fisheries and Ocean Studies Vice-Chancellor B. Madhusoodana Kurup said the rich biodiversity of the State was a positive factor for it to take the lead in life sciences research, targeting multiple sectors such as agriculture, marine products, biomedicals, and pharmaceuticals. Dr. Kurup stressed the need to equip the park with facilities for advanced research, business incubation, and technology transfer.

He said it could also address various environmental, quality, biosecurity, and labelling requirements of the aquaculture and ornamental fish sectors. He highlighted the need to promote public-private partnerships in life sciences.

Sudhir Nambiar, managing director of Astrazeneca India, said the Life Sciences Park could spark research and investment in developing drugs for tropical diseases and in new areas such as molecular diagnostics, personalised medicine, nanotechnology-based drug delivery systems, drug safety mechanisms, and better vaccines. He said it could also see the emergence of smaller biotech companies.

Vijay Chandru, chairman and CEO, Strand Life Sciences, said the park could see investments in frontline areas of research such as precision medicine, clinical genomics, and participatory medicine.

Chairing the second session, V.N. Rajasekharan Pillai, Principal Secretary, Science and Technology, said Kerala had all the ingredients to become the life science hub of India. M. Radhakrishna Pillai, Director, Rajiv Gandhi Centre for Biotechnology, and P.G Latha, Director Tropical Botanic Gardens and Research Institute, spoke.

A strong opinion that cropped up during the discussion was that the Life Sciences Park should be part of the International Association of Science Parks headquartered at Malaga, Spain.

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