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Innovative partnerships can make science accessible: experts

Successful case studies discussed on BIRAC foundation day

New Delhi: Innovative partnerships among various kinds of organizations are necessary to make the benefits of bioscience research accessible to the people, scientists and science administrators discussed at the second foundation day of Biotechnology Industry Research Assistance Council (BIRAC).“Translating an idea into a product needs different kinds of expertise and different stages. Since we are not masters of everything, to tap on different expertise we need to have collaborations, friendships and networks,” said Ted Bianco, Director Wellcome Trust.

The occasion brought together nearly 300 scientists and science administrators from industry and academia, public and private sector, policy makers and national and international organisations.

They discussed several successful case studies of partnerships that have made science beneficial to the people.

One of the significant ones was the low cost Rotavac which was the result of partnerships between hospitals like the All India Institute of Medical Sciences, the government of India, several international organisations like Program for Appropriate Technology in Health (PATH), National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases and the US Centres for Disease Control and Prevention and Bharat Biotech, a pharmaceutical company.

It made rotavirus vaccine accessible to the people and paved the way for preventing rotavirus generated diarrhoea which according to the records of the Department of Biotechnology results in the death of more than 450000 children below 5 years worldwide and around 100000 in India every year.

“This was possible through the creation of ecology of innovations and translation comprising of focused subject matter expertise infused with novelty from other fields, viewpoints and geographies. It brought knowledge from different areas together, “said Chris Wilson Director of the Global Health Discovery and Translational Sciences Programme of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.

“Such partnerships are necessary to change the world into a more equitable one,” said Krishnaswamy VijayRaghavan, Secretary of the Department of Biotechnology.

Harping on the necessity to focus on more such research and innovations, M K Bhan, former secretary of the Department of Biotechnology stressed, “product innovation is a complex path and the more hands we have, the better we are.”

Auli Pere, Programme Manager of the India Team of the Finnish Funding agency TEKES elaborated on how they have successfully promoted industry academia collaborations and that more such collaborations were necessary particularly between academia and industry.

Karlee Silver Vice President, Targeted Challenges, Grand Challenges Canada, pointed out that international funding agencies need to partner with national institutions that are aware of the regulatory process. She said that most innovators from India are aware of regulatory processes in the country and this has played a significant role in the success of their organizations partnerships with Indian institutions.

“Product dev and launch involves extensive orchestration of different partnerships for the different stages,” said Suresh Jadhav, Executive Director at the Serum Institute of India, a company known to be one of the largest vaccine manufacturers in the world.

Bianco elaborated on a successful partnership that gave birth to a smart cane for the aid of visually challenged people. The technology was the brain child of a group of scientists from IIT Delhi. However, it needed scaling up. Wellcome Trust helped them find a suitable partner in a Chennai based company. The technology was transferred to them for Re 1. The company validated it among 300 subjects and brought it to the market.

Ashok Jhunjhunwala, Professor at IIT Madras harped on more partnerships with small scales and start ups while Virander S Chauhan, Director of International Centre for Genetic Engineering and Biotechnology elaborated on the partnership model of his institute where companies invested money and became co-owner of technology. He said that this model had brought about several success stories for the institute like the malaria and the dengue vaccine.

Sam Pitroda, chairman of the National Innovation Council pointed out that democratization of information can facilitate partnerships of different kinds and hence play a crucial role in fostering innovations.