Bangalore: Biocon Ltd chairman and managing director Kiran Mazumdar-Shaw said India’s regulatory environment was the only factor holding back the country’s progress in biotechnology as the company opened a consolidated basic research centre in life sciences in Bangalore on Thursday.
“The fact that you are not approving any GM (genetically modified) crop after Bt cotton, or your aversion to clinical trials, tells you what is thought of the promise of biotechnology,” Mazumdar-Shaw said in an interview. “Sure, there will be criticism and concerns, just as it is there in Europe and elsewhere, but you have to learn to handle it. Other countries have learnt to handle it because they know what is important for the nation.”
As for advancing research, she said that given the interdisciplinary nature of science, it was not possible to “pick and choose where you want to be”.
“Science is all-pervading. There is nanotechnology, biotechnology, stem cells and so on. You cannot say this is permissible and that is not. It is all integrated. There has to be a cohesive, well-aligned ecosystem,” she said.
Kiran Mazumdar Shaw talks about the areas Biocon’s research and development will focus on.
The new research facility was set up at a cost of Rs 100 crore and, given the investments in equipment and allied facilities over several years, the total cost is estimated to be around Rs 250 crore, she said. It brings together 300 of Biocon’s existing scientists under one roof in an advanced facility.
“Biocon’s research so far has been done in fragmented labs, which are working in silos. This is about an integrated centre enabling a multidisciplinary approach to research and development (R&D). R&D is very iterative, and to do that faster you need groups to talk to each other,” said Mazumdar-Shaw, who has built Biocon into India’s largest biotech firm since founding it in 1978 with an investment of Rs 10,000.
Kurt Wüthrich says India needs to focus on creating strong educational institutions if it wants to produce innovative drug researchers.
The facility’s mandate is to be “a centre of excellence of proprietary skills, IP (intellectual property) creation, about taking risks and betting on important new technologies and therapeutics,” she said. “We don’t want incremental innovation, but breakthroughs.”
Biocon’s research is focused on diabetes, cancer and auto-immune diseases.
The centre was inaugurated by the 2002 Nobel Prize winner for chemistry, Kurt Wüthrich, who said in an interview that the centre’s mandate in drug discovery is an important one, given the constraints that the pharmaceutical industry faces worldwide.
“Big pharma companies are today run by lawyers who are scared about introducing a new drug,” the Swiss chemist said. “We have examples of drugs, which have helped millions of people over many years, being taken off the market because of a few severe side effects. There is really a need for innovative research.”