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An eventful month

January has been an eventful month for us all. I am happy to present it all to you in a bouquet.

A call for innovators’ dreams to come true

Welcome (young) friends— to the University Innovation Cluster

cluster

Some of you must have already heard about the University Innovation Cluster—a joint effort by Biotechnology Innovation Research Assistance Council (BIRAC) and the National Innovation Council (NIC). The launch was a very collegial event. People are central to the development of science and technology and any opportunity to nurture bright new ideas of young scientists is welcome.

These clusters will be a boost to those bright potential entrepreneurs waiting for an environment which allow them to try out their ideas for start-ups and perhaps address problems in which biotech can be part of the solution. It could be transformative.

Mr Sam Pitroda in his statement rightly said that India needs to increase government investment in biotechnology. The success of the new innovation clusters can help biotechnology play what many expect to be a central role in economic growth and ‘social innovation’.

As of now BIRAC, a Public Sector arm of the DBT, has partnered with the NIC to announce only five universities as part of the cluster, but the plan is to scale it up very soon to over twenty five.

the UIC will be hosted in five universities to nurture a culture of applied research and need oriented innovation among researchers in universities

Under this initiative, the Cluster Innovation Centre in Biotechnology will be hosted in five universities selected for the purpose to nurture a culture of applied research and need oriented (societal or industry) innovation among researchers in universities.

The first five are the Anna University, Chennai; Panjab University, Chandigarh; Tamil Nadu Agricultural University, Coimbatore; University of Rajasthan, Jaipur and the University of Agricultural Sciences, Dharwad.

The government will provide a total of Rs. 1.5 to 2 crore (15 to 20 million) per fellow per university to develop the innovation laboratories in these universities and nurture fellows to work on their ideas for three years mentored by researchers in the field.

The Cluster Innovation Centre will be the nerve centre to manage the University Innovation Cluster activities. Along with facilitating the creation of networks, partnerships between stakeholders to strengthen the innovation ecosystem, the CIC-B is also envisaged to provide pre-incubation support to innovative ideas and to innovators for effective translation into products thereof. Such support will include technical trainings, IP management, technology business management and access to risk finance, among others.

All programmes currently operated by BIRAC will be accessible through the UIC initiative and participant universities will be encouraged to creatively leverage existing programmes for maximum gain. The programme would also aim at leveraging existing resources from complementary private and public support programmes and institutions.

An open invitation was sent out to universities to show interest in participating in this initiative. Judging by the potential for success and enthusiasm to take the initiative forward, the abovementioned five universities have been selected to participate in Phase-I of this initiative.

These universities will shortly set up CIC-Bs and will initiate innovation-focused activities in the near future. With enthusiastic support promised by all stakeholders of the biotech sector, this initiative is envisaged to start showing positive results as early as the end of the year.

We want to see your ideas grow into our own business. So we are happy to mentor you for three years under a stalwart in your area of thought. Welcome all… please apply for the national competition for fellowships, which will be announced soon to see your ideas fructify.

A new multi-institutional programme study on pre-term births

An inter-institutional 5-year project, supported by the DBT, has started and aims to understand the problem so that interventions can be planned

ptb-1

The Department of Biotechnology has just begun a five-year programme of support to address the problem of pre-term births, which causes around 300,000 neo-natal deaths in India annually.

The aim of the programme is to understand the disease biology and characterise pre-term birth on the basis of its causes.

The final goal for the Rs 48.85 crore (Rs 4.8 billion), inter-institutional programme which involves multidisciplinary research effort is to predict and diagnose pre-term birth (PTB).

This will help plan intervention methods and develop therapeutic agents against this scourge.

The DBT says in a recent statement: “It is expected that the clinically relevant research outputs from the study will aid characterisation of the biological, clinical and epidemiological risk factors to help assess whether a mother is under high or low risk of delivering before term (achieve appropriate risk stratification of mothers).

“These in turn would provide a basis for discovery of novel therapeutic agents and determine appropriate timing for their clinical application.”

the basic aim
is to understand the disease biology
of PTB and understand its causes.

The basic aim of the project is to understand the epidemiology of PTB, its genetic and environmental interactions, and changes in vaginal microbial landscape.

The programme highlights include development and evaluation of putative bio-markers, identification of simple microbiological tool-based vaginal risk factors, modulation of vaginal microbiota for therapeutic purposes and evaluation of environmental modification chosen from SNP analysis.

A metagenomic approach for profiling of vaginal microbial flora would be taken up and this information will be correlated with PTB, and other dietary and epidemiological risk factors.

“The initial step will be to establish a hospital-based cohort of pregnant women, starting from the first trimester, each of whom will be followed till delivery, explained Dr S Sinha, Advisor Medical Biotechnology division at DBT.

The hospital will be in General Hospital, Gurgaon, in the northern Indian state of Haryana.

The programme will involve clinicians, epidemiologists and biologists from three autonomous institutions of DBT –

Paediatric Biology Centre (PBC), and the Centre for Human Microbial Ecology (CHME) at the Translational Health Science and Technology Institute (THSTI) located at Gurgaon,

Regional Centre for Biotechnology (RCB), also located at Gurgaon and

National Institute of Biomedical Genomics (NIBMG) at Kalyani in the eastern state of West Bengal

The other important partners are the clinicians at the General Hospital Gurgaon and Safdarjung Hospital. Physicians from Maulana Azad Medical College and the All India Institute of Medical Sciences are co-investigators in the programme.

Fellowship announcements for Clinicians and Public Health researchers

The Wellcome Trust / DBT India Alliance has announced new fellowship opportunities for clinicians and public health researchers in India.

welcome-trust-2

The schemes include two initiatives. One involves a two-year research training fellowship for clinicians. The other includes early intermediate and senior fellowship schemes for clinicians and public health researchers.

The fellowship for clinicians aims to provide them an opportunity to carry out high quality basic and clinical research in a laboratory or clinical environment of their choice.

It is targeted to help medical and allied health professionals who have completed or shall soon complete their master’s degree and are keen on receiving training through high quality research under the supervision of senior scientists with expertise in clinical and basic science research.

Two years personal support will be provided along with research and training costs, an opportunity to get trained in the area of interest, support for joint mentorship under clinical and basic science experts.

A second set of fellowships opportunities have been announced to encourage interested clinicians and public health researchers to pursue their research goals along with their clinical duties.

Among these are early career fellowships that provides unique opportunity for those who have shown promise to pursue a research career and wish to further strengthen their efforts towards achieving a longer term research vision under the guidance of a fellowship supervisor.

Intermediate fellowships are for those who have already built a track record of pursuing clinical or public health research and wish to establish their own research programmes in India. Senior fellowships are for those who have successfully lead an independent research programme and wish to expand that through additional support.

Apart from personal support, the fellowships will provide funds for research support facilities like additional staff and training including international ones.

Of course there are more… I thank the entire community for making this possible.