‘Growth of biotechnology sector is largely dependent on the availability of trained resources’
Dr Seyed E Hasnain, Vice Chancellor, University of Hyderabad, Chairman, Biotech Advisory Council of the Government of Andhra Pradesh, and Chairman of the Organising Committee of BioAsia, gives an insight the role of universities in boosting the growth of biotechnology sector, in conversation with Arshiya Khan
What is the role played by universities like that of Hyderabad in boosting the growth of the biotechnology sector?
The University of Hyderabad is currently ranked as number one in India, as far as science research and education is concerned and perhaps among the top five in all spheres put together. The growth of biotechnology sector is largely dependent on the availability of trained resources. The University of Hyderabad, through its master’s and PG programmes, has been churning out many highly trained and skilled MSc and PhDs. It is to the credit of the university that almost every student passing out from there finds a placement either in the industry or has moved up to further improve their career by enrolling in higher edu-cation within the country or abroad or has found a place in the academia. A good number of former students of the university have also turned into entrepreneurs and have set up their own biotech companies which in turn are doing reasonable business in Hyderabad.
To further directly promote the growth of biotechnology and modern biology, the University of Hyderabad has teamed up with the Government of Andhra Pradesh (AP) to create a ‘Knowledge and Innovation Park’ which will house R&D activities of global biotech players. The ambience, infrastructure and location within an academic environment such as the University of Hyderabad are attributes which will be very difficult to find anywhere else in India. The cluster effect generated at the University by virtue of housing a number of academic R&D institutions within its 2,300 acre (largest in Asia) campus parallels those seen in the Bay region or in Boston, USA.
What is the role played by private institutes? Please give us details of the government tie-ups with other research institutes in India, as well as other countries?
There are no private institutes, which are major player in biotechnology. There are however, a large number of private companies such as Dr Reddy’s, Shantha Biotech, Bharat Biotech, Biological E, Sudarshan Biotech and many more which have their own R&D as well as production facility. Many such companies have formal agreements or tie-ups with government institutions or universities and there are other success stories, which have emerged from these tie-ups. It is, however, important to mention that none of these companies are engaged in producing MSc, or PhD graduates of their own.
Many students prefer going to Western countries for further studies in research and otherwise as well. What could be the reason? Where is the Indian system of education lacking?
It is true that many students prefer going to Western countries for further studies and research. The reasons are several. I would like to classify such students in two categories. Category one comprises of those who have pursued and received their degree from highly reputed institutions in India and are keen on adding value to their biodata by getting further exposure and training in some of the best places abroad. This is a perfectly good reason more so because many such students who were trained initially in institutions or universities in India and after receiving advanced training and exposure overseas have come back to the country and have added to our knowledge pool.
The second category comprises of those who could not get admission, for whatever reasons, to the best-of-the-best institutions in the country and could possibly afford financially (or through support from the receiving institutions), or were left with no other option but to go abroad for higher education. State-of-art institutions and universities in India involved in R&D have been constrained from expanding because of lack of infrastructural reinforcements. The pressure to bring in social inclusions without worrying about quality will further add to the problems. For example, as opposed to thousands of students who apply for MSc or PhD in certain areas, just at the University of Hyderabad itself, less than one tenth could be admitted. What is needed today is to bring in generous infusion of funds to the selected top 10-20 institutions to expand their capabilities, while at the same time empower the second ranking institutions by similarly improving their infrastructure. Let me conclude by saying that Indian students coming from some of the prestigious institutions and universities are the best trained and are much in demand both in India as well as abroad.
It is therefore, quite natural given the law of economics and supply and demand that they are attracted to where there is huge potential to grow. Now that India is growing globally these students are returning.
What is the USP of Andhra Pradesh that makes it a hub of biotechnology?
Andhra Pradesh is an acknowledged leader in biotechnology. There is no other state in India, which has such a high concentration of biotech companies producing recombinant therapeutics for human consumption. It also has the second largest recombinant DNA therapeutic production facility in the world, which is also being used by multi-national companies to produce their own recombinant products. The reasons for all these lie in the fact that Andhra Pradesh is the first to come out with a biotech policy in the country, and is the only state which has earmarked several hundred acres for the ‘Genome Valley’ which houses biotech R&D and production units. In addition, the concentration of R&D institutions dedicated to biotechnology innovation, institutions creating IPRs as well as human resources all put together, make the state unique.
What initiatives are undertaken by the government boost the growth of such exhibitions?
Single-window clearance facility, one-to-one interaction with biotech leaders, showcasing the growth of biotech, and generation of quality human resources in AP, particularly Hyderabad, etc. are some of the measures the Government has taken in this regard.
What are the opportunity areas of biotechnology in India?
Biotechnology is moving at a very rapid pace in India. There is going to be reinforcement of our strength in the production sector because of the cost benefit and the advantage of quality control and quality assurance. The biotechnology sector will also soon witness in the days to come a shift to innovations and creation of IPRs. This is already happening in the pharma sector and this will be more increasingly visible in the biotechnology sector as well. Contract research and service-based organisations are also likely to come up in a big way. Already there are such companies making decent profits in Hyderabad and elsewhere. With the demonstration of the Indian intellectual prowess, exemplified by the birth of ‘Nano’ (one lakh car from the Tatas), there will be increasing awareness about creating technological breakthroughs in the biotechnology sectors including biomedical instrumentations.
What are the takeaways of such exhibitions?
In real terms the takeaways eventually are measured by increased financial outflows. In less tangible terms the success of developing new relationships and partnership which will have long term investment value are also clear outcomes.