Dr MK Bhan is one of the most eminent clinical scientists who has brought dynamism in the plan of proteomics. Biotechnology has seen an immense escalation in the industry over the years with a definite framework. In conversation with Divya Chawla and Shally Makin, being the secretary to DBT, he discusses the role of nascent biotechnology sector in the country
What is the role of DBT?
Department of Biotechnology (DBT) was first established as a Biotechnology development board. The idea behind its formation was to condition the technology development. Lately, the biological science in India did not develop as compared to engineering. Looking at this scenario, an agency was established to promote life sciences and biotechnology. The agency focused on two issues, firstly to build infrastructure for biological sciences and secondly, developing human resource. Now we have reached the situation where scientific base and quality base in India has grown to a lot of extent. Since 2004, we have seen a growth rate of 10 percent per year. At this moment, most of the programs are managed by the agency of Department of Biotechnology (DBT), the Biotechnology Industry Research Assistance Programme (BIRAP). It is an initiative to promote, nurture and incubate innovation and excellence in the biotechnology industry.
The R & D is competent enough in the industry. BIRAP was formed for innovation, production, manufacturing and marketing. There was a need for a department which can nurture small companies financially such as SBRI. There are other schemes which offer funds for early stage research and develop R & D for clinical trials. The agency provides scientific support and young entrepreneurs. To manage the innovation in the field of biotechnology an agency was created called BIRAC which operates our industry R&D schemes with link service, technology transfer, IT support, service support and advisors for new companies with regulatory advice, clinical trial support and field trials.
How far do you think PPP can contribute in this industry?
The PPP models in Biotech innovation are used differently in the infrastructure. The first requirement is to create a knowledge resource. Such models are like contact sport and the actual and intellectual connectivity is very important for development. Secondly, we need a nail to map the scientific output and create a seamless force at which it can access so that the whole technology transfer process is taken crucially. Thirdly, our traditional investor are either finding difficult to handle coz of its complexity or are just callous. Government in all countries has done well in the field of biotechnology in providing early stages of capital for R & D. The regulatory sector is quiet cost intensive in the development stage. If we work for a global market, we need a FDA clearance from the regulatory bodies. A close relationship between public sector, institutes, government and industries is inescapable for any country to become a strong nation. PPP helps create an infrastructure for solving problem, research and equipment to be in governed manner. It is the challenge of connectivity between the private and the public based industries.
“BIRAP manages Public Private Partnership Schemes and participates in activities like capacity building programmes. The basic idea is to support private industries which have high societal relevance”
BIRAP manages Public Private Partnership Schemes and participates in activities like capacity building programmes to build human resources, infrastructure, etc. The agency basically funds small and medium companies that take up high-risk pre-proof-of concept research and late stage development. The basic idea is to support private industries and to get them involved in development of such products and processes which have high societal relevance.
DBT has undertaken various projects in collaboration with pharma firms and other PPP projects to fund develop and support in multiple ways. Two countries tie up for an international PPP and develop infrastructure through training and use their technology in industries and institutes to work together. In the last 7-8 years there is a remarkable change in partnerships. We support our companies and connect them other companies for sharing their knowledge. DBT is proud to be one of the friendliest departments which run programs over 80 countries in the world with the mind boggling expansion.
What percent or budgetary allocation you have in country?
DBT spends `1400 cores a year with an additional `700-800 crore, and 65-70 percent of total funding reaches altogether to a whopping `2500 crore. We fund universities and medical schools through the money allocated by HRD, ICMR government of India. There has been a great increase in allocation of funds from just `180 crore ten years back and now. We need to attract people with different strategies and target those who have deep scientific base.
How do you help in retaining talent and encourage students to pursue research?
So far, DBT has funded 80 masters programs majorly offering PhD and Post doctoral programs. We also offer opportunities to students to pursue studies overseas as well as other fellowship programs. We try and connect our young talent to other countries through global meetings headed by directors and vice chancellors. The primary reason for such meetings and conferences is to share knowledge. Seventy percent of the students pursuing such courses have got faculty position. We give them twice the salary offered to an average faculty member for five years along with other basic amenities such as a car and a house.
“There has been a great increase in allocation of funds from just `180 crore ten years back to a whopping `2500 crore today. We fund universities and medical schools through the money allocated by HRD, ICMR, goI”
Bioinformatics is now offered in nearly every college through the initiatives of DBT. There are other courses on medical biotechnology, veterinary, environment, forestry and many other which have recently become popular with students. Traditionally, India started doing well in vaccines due to its demand and intense PPP. The Stanford alliance was done way back in 1960s for encouraging innovation oriented courses. The idea behind this concept is to bring together five people from different fields in collaboration with IIT Delhi in 1960’s. One person each from design, biology, engineering, commerce and a lay man are put in a group for few days to produce 300 ideas. The learning should be innovation based. We have grown up studying in different format, but this concept helps you learn to be an innovator. We have started in most of the colleges all over the country. The latest is in Faridabad with a health cluster developing soon. IIT Delhi and AIIMs partners with eye hospitals in Chennai to initiate and develop one IIT school and one medical school by the theme discussed. The companies are soon starting with intense PPP. There are not enough users and the fact that India’s health expenditure is very low. There is a need for every sector to grow. The Bio-design concept for implantable and diagnostics is very important. So we tried to teach people how to do mental innovation and learn decision making. The gentle idea is to begin and learn to become an innovator and hope to spread it all over India. DBT’s strategy is to fund people rather than projects and this way we encompass talent.
Vaccine market is flourishing both in the public sector and private sector along with the increasing demand of the world. The government work around the strategy and changed the team from DBT to BIRAP for innovation support. Discovering and learning by innovation for the next generation is today’s motto, leading to meaningful diagnostics, vaccine, equipment, private hospitals bringing engineering back to the healthcare but all is not enough. It is preparing country for innovation in multiple ways to redesign DBT and part of it is innovating with structure.
We have done brilliantly as we have a large number of product innovation rather predesigned strategy. When we sign the contract we fix the money with them and do a costing study so that we can prepare an accomplishment study. We fund more companies against the BIRAP with lots of scheme. Innovation is where the industry thrives and the social innovation comes into picture. We have some great projects on vaccine, rice, malaria, TB, dengue, rotavirus, pneumococcal, HPV. We are creating governance interested partner and contracts to be sold. By this process we try to manage information through experience understand technology, science, economics, social science and we need people to have split personality who think science and business at the society level.
How do you think biotechnology can help in the overall development of science projects in the country?
There are lots of simple biotech project which can make business. Such as mushrooms, medicinal plant industries which are funded by agriculture universities. Biotech extracts in a way is designed is mass based rather than elite based. The ones that are cheaper products there selection of focus and individual dream is considered. The social contribution is mass based which is at a low cost and provides employment. Green energy is the largest program which comes from environment to make fuel. This question always arises – Are u designing the product that is market based or technology based? We encourage public health as much as we can. It is to build the right holder as we need to produce services that will have the largest health impact. To use those things that benefit more people we need to target peripheral small hospitals and match with your own philosophy, food technology for food fortification for severely malnourished group of mass. We directly fund NGOs and lot of technology programs and medical systems in the rural towns with all the priority we don’t make blue roses.