Reliance Industries Ltd, the new owner of Indian Petrochemicals Corp. Ltd, plans to revive an old joint venture that IPCL had struck with the department of biotechnology for setting up a bio-cluster at Manesar, in Haryana, to focus on vaccine development and research, and work on regenerative medicine.
Confirming the development, a senior official of the department of biotechnology who did not wish to be identified, said the ministry held a meeting earlier this week with representatives from IPCL. “This project will definitely come through in the next few months and soon we shall publicly announce this,” the official added.
M.K. Bhan, secretary of the biotech department, said: “This proposal with the Reliance Group is in a preliminary stage of discussion. We (are), however, seriously looking at the land in Manesar for a joint initiative.”
A Reliance spokesperson didn’t respond to phone calls or emails.
Bio-clusters, conceptually similar to the software technology parks in India, are townships that will host all the infrastructure any biotech company would need—from laboratories, animal-testing locations, patent-facilitation cells, and research centres that can provide consultancy services on how laboratory research can be translated to immediate, practical solutions for patients. India already has similar facilities.
The 600 sq. km Genome Valley bio-cluster near Hyderabad, Andhra Pradesh, for instance, hosts over 100 biotech companies including Shantha Biotechnics Ltd, GVK Biosciences Pvt. Ltd, the ICICI Knowledge Park, Shapoorji Pallonji Biotech Park as well as government research centres such as the Centre for Cellular and Molecular Biology, and the Indian Institute of Chemical Technology.
The IPCL joint venture was first signed in 1989 and included French vaccine company Pasteur Merieux Serums and Vaccines.
All three partners held an equal share in Indian Vaccines Corp. Ltd (IVCOL), which was incorporated as a joint venture company in March 1989 to undertake research and development, and manufacture viral vaccines, including injectable polio vaccine for polio eradication.
But, later, the government, partly on advice of the World Health Organization, said oral, and not injectable, polio vaccines should be used in India.
After several rounds of consultations, it was found that the joint venture company was technically and economically infeasible, and Pasteur exited the project by selling its 33% stake to the government.
In 1999, the department established The National Brain Research Centre on the same premises.
“And now, the essence of the parleys are on how to further develop the premises,” said the official.
The department’s website confirms the Reliance initiative. “The new management of IPCL has submitted a proposal for acquisition of controlling shares of IVCOL and revival of the company.
“The proposal has been considered and is being submitted to the competent authority for its decision shortly. It is expected that, within the next few months, IVCOL will be restructured and revived.”
The Reliance Group is not new to biotechnology, having already established Reliance Life Sciences, a closely held company that is active in areas such as biopharmaceuticals, molecular diagnostics and genetics.
Upen Bhatt, senior biotechnology consultant with Pricewaterhouse Coopers, a research and consultancy firm, said that it was a strategically sensible move for RIL.
“There is an emerging trend to follow the methods employed by the information technology sector, to benefit from the biotech boom. Software parks have been a success, so I guess bio-clusters would work, too.”