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India Pharma 2016: Discussing strategies to further R&D and innovation in the pharmaceutical sector

Harini Barath

India Pharma 2016
India Pharma 2016   (Photo: Harini Barath)

Pharma India 2016, an international exhibition and conference on the pharmaceutical industry, was held in Bangalore from 7-9 January 2016, along with a twin event, the India Medical Expo 2016. Organised by the Department of Pharmaceuticals, Government of India and the Federation of Indian Chambers of Commerce And Industry (FICCI), these are among the first major events to showcase products of the domestic pharmaceutical (pharma) sector, connect them to global investors, encourage ‘Make in India’ in this sector, and to promote India as an upcoming manufacturing hub in pharmaceuticals and medical devices.

Over 100 companies and 3000 business visitors registered to participate in the exhibition. The sessions and panel discussions through the event also brought together representatives and experts from business, research and government, to discuss success stories, roadblocks, policy interventions and directions for future innovation. One such session, India - The next R&D and Innovation Destination, attempted to look at what strategies and policy interventions are required to develop an ecosystem that fosters R&D and innovation in the pharma industry.

The session chair, Cyrus Karkaria, FICCI Biotechnology Committee, and President, Biotechnology,Lupin Limited opened the session. He said that the pharma industry is one of the biggest innovation engines of this country and invited the panel to reflect on strategies for the next 5-10 years. Neeraj Sharma, Head of Policy at the Department of Science and Technology (DST), called for industry to increase funding for research. He said that unlike most developed nations, the Government currently shoulders more than 70% of research funding. Talking about DST’s efforts in pharmaceuticals, he cited their Drugs & Pharmaceutical Research Program, which provides funding options for infrastructure and capacity building.

Sharma’s call for increased funding found emphatic support from D N Rao, Chairman, Biological Science Division, Indian Institute of Science (IISc), Bangalore. “What is needed is continued exchange and dialogue between researchers and companies. Long term investment is missing; short burst collaborations are not effective,” he said.

Speaking next, M Ariz Ahammed, Joint Secretary, Department of Pharmaceuticals, GoI, declared that the Government had a clear vision—they seek to make India a leader in drug discovery and development in the next 10-15 years. To this end, they are working to outline a common roadmap, the first draft of which will be published in February, and opened for comments. A venture capital scheme that will provide a risk management cushion for startups is also in the pipeline. 

The National Institutes for Pharmaceutical Education and Research (NIPERs) are intended to spearhead this culture of innovation in the coming years, producing a quality workforce that can lead R&D efforts. To promote closer ties with industry, 17 companies signed an agreement with the NIPERs in November 2015. The MoUs are intended to accelerate translation of research into development, and provide internship and employment opportunities among other things. Ahmed Kamal, Project Director, NIPER, Hyderabad, was of the opinion that with appropriate support, NIPERs had all the right departments to take their research to the preclinical stage. Quoting Satish Reddy, Chairman, Dr. Reddy’s Laboratories, he said, “We can never claim to be a global player in pharmaceuticals if we don’t have our own drugs.” He also brought attention to the scope for development of eco-friendly bioprocesses.

Arjun Surya, Chief Scientific Officer, Curadev Pharma, in his turn, recommended that innovation needs to be categorised and regulated separately, citing the Patent Box—a special tax regime for IP revenues—as an effective means of bringing investments. Commenting on the academia-industry links and nurturing innovation, he said, “We fragment our academia based on disciplines. We are not building large centres of excellence, so there is not enough critical mass of talent.” He was, however, largely appreciative of the Government’s efforts. “It is very heartening to see that innovation is being valued by the Government. Senior officials are now involved in creating an atmosphere to encourage and support innovation,” he said.

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Physicist turned science writer. I enjoy writing about interdisciplinary research and interviewing scientists about science and careers in science.