Another first for Indian science

Another first for Indian science

Indian scientists have finally mapped the genome of a native Indian, demonstrating that the democratization of science, genomic science in particular, has begun. The success owes as much to the scientists as to the sequencing technology, which in the last two decades has followed Moore’s Law of exponential growth leading to a dramatic fall in the cost of genetic mapping.

Now that India has sequenced one human genome, more Indian genomes will be sequenced and integrated with the emerging genetic landscape from local as well as global genetic diversity studies. What is important here is that the scientific leadership charts a road map on generating more data and translating them into biomedical benefits.

A four-nation study published last year in Nature Reviews Genetics showed that while genomics capacity is being developed in India, the industry isn’t yet a part of it. Learning from the genomics business elsewhere, where companies haven’t been able to commercialize this science, the fledgling Indian biotechnology and generics-driven pharmaceutical industry should be involved right from the start. Last month, one of the world’s earliest genomics companies, deCODE Genetics of Iceland, filed for bankruptcy in a US court, once again proving that turning genomics data into medicine is not easy. Still, developing countries, more than the developed ones, have much to gain from genomic medicine as they can least afford to waste precious resources on ineffective therapies and diagnostics. The most practical use of genomics data is in preventive medicine and diagnostics, rather than personalized, tailor-made drugs which big pharma will eventually look at.

Nonetheless, some of the bench science is reaching the bedside. Last month, a new TB drug formulation, Risorine, was launched (by Cadila Pharma), which used genomics data from the ongoing Indian Genome Variation initiative to improve the efficacy of the drug.

A September study in Nature already showed that the genetic diversity within India is three-four times higher than that seen within Europe and that certain types of diseases, particularly single-gene disorders, will be more common in India. If scientists partner with the industry, they will only accelerate their lab finding into tangible healthcare benefits.

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