Naidu makes strong pitch for life sciences institute

HYDERABAD Nov. 24. The Chief Minister, N. Chandrababu Naidu, made a strong pitch for setting up an international institute of life sciences in Hyderabad to give a further push to recent initiatives in the biotech and pharma sectors in the State.

Speaking at the International Knowledge Millennium Conference on `Drug Discovery and Healthcare in the Knowledge Economy: India's Opportunities', here on Sunday, Mr. Naidu said that with the setting up of the Biotech park, the ICICI Knowledge Park and the location of leading corporate hospitals in the city, Hyderabad was emerging as a leader in both research and application of life sciences.

He underlined his Government's commitment to give "full co-operation'' to the biotech and pharma industries, which he termed "the technologies of the future.'' He said that in conjunction with the established strength of the State in IT, new ventures in biotech and pharma technology would help in making Hyderabad the `Knowledge hub' of the region.

Inaugurating the conference, which has been sponsored jointly by CII, ICICI Knowledge Park, Council for Scientific and Industrial Research, Genome Valley and the Government of Andhra Pradesh, the Governor, C. Rangarajan, lauded the contributions made by medical researchers and pharmacists in reducing disease. Stressing on the need to "expand the list of extinct diseases,'' Dr. Rangarajan said that while $56 billion is spent globally on health research many of the main killers are not sufficiently researched. He found a bias against the diseases of the developing world which received less attention from the pharma companies. Of the 1,223 new compounds launched in the market between 1977 and 1997 only 11 were for tropical diseases.

Calling for a greater emphasis on R&D, Dr. Rangarajan underlined the need for building legal, infrastructure and policy environments which were conducive to industry investing large amounts which were needed for R&D. Quoting from industry figures, he said that the cost of bringing a new drug into the market was about $802 million. In the absence of a strong legal framework to protect intellectual property, the incentive for innovation may be blunted, he warned.

Along with protection to innovation and intellectual property, it was also necessary to ensure that new discoveries which have the potential to bring people out of disease and suffering are diffused widely. This may not always be possible with the monopoly granted by patents, Dr. Rangarajan conceded. It was therefore necessary for Governments and policy makers to work out balances between the need for innovation and the need for technology diffusion, he said.

R.A. Mashelkar, Director General, CSIR, said that India was the land of ideas and it was necessary to make it the land of opportunities. He welcomed this initiative by industry to bring scientists and entrepreneurs together on a common platform to discuss the future direction of drug and healthcare research.

Bala S. Manian, Chairman, EPPIC, USA, said that India needed to upgrade its infrastructure and legal framework if it wanted to capitalise on the biotech revolution.