“Indian biotech industry has matured to reach the levels of competitive edge”

Mentioned Dr Nirmal Kumar Ganguly, Former Director General, ICMR who shared his views on the growth achieved by the biotech industry, academia and criticism over research funding in India

 A well known public figure, Dr Nirmal Kumar Ganguly has been the former Director General of the Indian Council of Medical Research besides being a Fellow of several international and national institutions of repute. About Dr N K Ganguly: With rich experience transcending over five decades, Dr N K Ganguly has published numerous papers and guided doctoral projects. His major research areas have been tropical diseases, cardiovascular diseases and diarrhoeal diseases. A recipient of whopping 118 Awards, including 7 International and 111 National ones, he got the prestigious, Padma Bhushan, in the field of ‘Medicine’ during the year 2008. Dr Ganguly  Dr Ganguly was formerly a Distinguished Biotechnology Research Professor, Department of Biotechnology, Government of India. He was formerly President of the Jawaharlal Institute of Postgraduate Medical Education and Research (JIPMER), as well as that of the Asian Institute of Public Health, Bhubaneswar, Odisha. Born on 1941, the 76 year old Dr Ganguly is highly committed to the cause of healthcare. He can be still seen attending and addressing the public health forums of importance. Currently he is an Advisor to the Translational Health Science and Technology Institute and also the Chairman of Immunology Foundation.

In an exclusive interaction with the BioVoice News, India’s eminent scientist and former top health administrator, Dr N K Ganguly, shared his views on the growth achieved by the biotech industry, academia and criticism over research funding in India. Read the excerpts below:

BV_icon-150x150How do you look at the progress made by the biotech industry in India so far? What do you consider its achievements and challenges?

Indian biotech industry has made remarkable progress. Among its various areas, the biosimilars in itself has emerged as a sector followed by the biotherapeutics and vaccines. Yet the biosimilars industry got stagnated at one time as we hadn’t gone to the third generation products or what were called difficult products.

 One of the breakthroughs came when Genova Phamacueticals made the TNK-tPA which was global product and to make its replication, one required special process where Tenecteplase which is an enzyme was used as a thrombolytic drug. That created a landmark product. Then there was quality erythropoetin product, Vintor from the company. India has a major share of this in the overall market.

The second major product was from our current Director General of Council of Scientific and Industrial Research (DG-CSIR), Girish Sahney who created India’s first idigenous clot buster drug that was very specifc or highly targeted. It was later branded by the various companies under their brand names such as STPase by Cadila Pharmaceuticals and recombinant streptokinase by Shasun Drugs etc. His team has also developed a novel life-saver thrombolytic drug (Clot-specific streptokinase), India’s first bio-therapeutic molecule.

“There are many biotech intervenions that look highly promising for healthcare. While there were many hurdles earlier, few of our products are breaking these barriers”

The monoclonal antibodies are highly promising area. Product like Rituximab and Avastin have been highly succesful in treating cancer. Some of them are already being produced in India. Only problem which comes in is that we need to create resources for the discovery of new platforms. The CSIR had actually funded the major product phage display library. Due to it, the monoclonal targets for difficult sites is easily done. The innovative technology is now available and this is going to bring revolution. Also, we have enough organizations which can produce mammalian cell lines. Innovations in fermenters can also bring change.

There are many biotech intervenions that look highly promising for healthcare. While there were many hurdles earlier, few of our products are breaking these barriers. The biotech industry has matured to reach the levels of competitive edge. I am more optimistic about the growth of biotech industry now.

BV_icon-150x150When it comes to the technology transfer from academia to industry, has the scenario improved over the period of time?

 I would like to say that there are fewer academic institutes which have been contributing to the industry-academia intercation. Speaking generally about India, here industry has been much more forward looking in this direction than academia. The international NGOs too have played a key role in the same.

 I believe that industry in India must be supported because it has taken strong lead into trying to create valuable entreprises. There was even a BIRAC analysis which conluded that industry takes a lead and academia comes later. Small perecentage of products developed at academic levels actually go to the industry as of yet. The contribution is far lesser than what should have been the case. 

BV_icon-150x150The government’s policy on funding for research activities hasn’t gone down well with lot of scientists. Many have expressed disappointment on CSIR’s budget cut. What is your take on this?

Actually, the funding matrix was changed by the government due to new priorities and the organizations are now struggling due to this changed matrix. The focus has directly come on the product devlopment and translational research. Redesigning and repositioning themselves seems to be the only option in the event of emphasis on product development and transformation in all areas. While academia was little behind when it comes to product development, I don’t think there is a dearth of funds if the repositioning of research is done at the basic level. For development of more specific high end solutions, of course more funds would be required.

BV_icon-150x150Which according to you are the most challenging disease faced by India currently? Are we doing enough?

The challenging diseases faced by India today are non communicable diseases (NCDs). These pose a huge threat to large sections of Indian population due to pollution and change in lifestyles. Among these, diabetes, hypertension etc are the major ones. The ones that refuse to go away include Tuberculosis along with many other NCDs together. Indian scientists have been putting their efforts and government agencies too have set their goals. Accelerating that in a focused manner besides attention towards Some last work mile diseases such as Leishmania, Filarasis, Malria etc too require our bigger attention.