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The surge of pharma... There’s quantity; but we need quality research
There’s quantity; but we need quality research
“We have excellent hospitals, world-class medical professionals. Indian healthcare system and medical education are expanding rapidly. But there are not enough people doing intense research. If you take the top 15 blockbuster drugs of the world, there is none from India,” says Dr G Thyagarajan (GT).

THIS DISTINGUISHED SCIENTIST involved with pharma and chemical research for six decades, presided over a round table on the pharma sector organised by IE. 

He mentioned the large size of the Indian pharma industry that is socially, economically and politically important for any country. There are several multinationals and large Indian corporates engaged in this industry. GT referred to the poor external image of the industry that is hurting us due to inadequate recognition of IPR and poor protection of patents. But the Indian side of it is different. “We have world class manufacturing facilities with well-qualified staff. The industry has been able to make available drugs at much cheaper prices than most other countries. Unfortunately, however, 20-22 per cent of the drugs sold here are fake, illegal. We need more vigorous regulation to control such wide illegal practices,” said GT.

“With regard to medical research, we do not have a holistic approach among medical colleges, hospitals and the healthcare administration to build research capabilities of a high order. Happily there is the promise of a good number of start-up companies surfacing,” said GT. He suggested that every state should enunciate a policy for medical research and advancement and to intensify research and upgrade systems, practices and standards to world class. 

Every third tablet consumed is from India

The viewpoint of industry was projected by S Abhaya Kumar, Managing Director, Shasun Pharmaceuticals Ltd.  Shasun is an integrated, leading global supplier of development and manufacturing services for intermediates, Active Pharmaceutical Ingredients (API) and formulations to the pharmaceutical industry.

“Hardly four decades ago, India was importing more than 80 per cent of its drugs and other medicines. We didn’t have a single world class manufacturing unit. Thanks to the Indian Drugs & Pharmaceuticals Ltd and the IICT, Hyderabad received a lot of focus on pharma research and production and evolved as the Mecca of the pharma industry. Today, a third of the drugs consumed worldwide are made in India. Every third tablet consumed is an Indian product. It’s a great achievement,” said Kumar. 

Kumar referred to pharma as a dynamic industry where changes are happening regularly. 

The Shasun chief executive said that “unless Indian research is innovative, it will not be respected. So far we have been focusing on alternative uses of the same drugs. There is need for greater focus on research to produce new molecules through basic research. The stress should be on zero defect.” 

Kumar also stressed the need for leveraging the native capability of the country in drugs developed over centuries through ayurveda, siddha, unani etc.” There is a need to use the enormous knowledge base of these systems and align them to the scientific rigours of modern techniques,” he said

Need for greater industry-academe collaboration.

In the round table, we also involved the participation of a researcher cum academic, 

Dr D Chamundeeswari, Principal, Faculty of Pharmacy, Sri Ramachandra Medical University. She suggested that the pharma curriculum should encourage research at the UG level and bridge the gap between the academia and industry, which would help provide a thrust to new drug discovery. She urged regulation to control the mushrooming of pharmacy colleges and to make available well-trained teachers.

“Discovery of a new molecule involves high cost, time and a multi-disciplinary approach. Thus there is need to focus on building effective teams of specialists drawn across a wide spectrum. The industry can adopt a pharma college, accredit it, pool the resources and work on well-laid timelines. This will provide opportunities for undergrad students and academia to work on the needs of the market and the industry and focus on discovering needed drugs,” said Chamundeeswari. 


Provide internship for PG students at 
pharma units...

Prof S Balasubramanian), Fellow of the Royal Society of Chemistry, UK, Honorary Secretary of the RSC, South India and a Chemistry Professor, University of Madras, provided the perspective of an academic. He suggested that, as in engineering colleges, PG students of chemistry should undergo internships with pharma manufacturing units as part of their studies. This practice of the School of Chemical Sciences of the University of Madras needs to be followed more widely by medical and pharma colleges; this will help provide trained manpower and the vital connect with industrial research. Industry-academy collaboration needs to be expanded as in developed countries. Research projects sponsored by industry in academic institutions would also help build symbiotic relationships,” he added. 

Bala referred to the bio-availability and therapeutic efficiency of the anti-cancer drug curcumin. “Obtained from turmeric, known for its therapeutic value for centuries, its effectiveness can be enhanced by encapsulating it in biodegradable polymeric nano particles. This technique can be further enhanced by controlled drug delivery, reduced dosage and minimal side effects.” 

The professor pointed to the excellent therapeutic potential of several siddha and ayurveda drugs. But these need scientific validation. 

He also brought up the topic of wider use of sophisticated analytical instruments such as inductively coupled plasma spectrometer and Raman spectrometer. While one comes across a vast range of such instruments installed by hospitals for diagnosis, these are imported at high costs from a few developed countries. A time bound plan to stimulate production at affordable prices in India is needed, he remarked. 

In the interactions and subsequent discussions, the experts stressed the need to build research capabilities across higher education institutions, academe and industry. – SV

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IE, the business magazine from south was launched in 1968 and pioneered business journalism in south. Through the 45 years IE has been focusing on well-presented and well-researched articles. When giants in the industry stumbled to keep pace with the digital revolution, IE stayed affixed embracing technology.
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