The Indian government seeks to infuse national pride into drug discovery and development, announcing via the Narendra Modi government its hunt for a “made in India” drug molecule—with a goal to demonstrate the country’s scientific and research pedigree and prowess.
Reported in ThePrint, this apparently could be some national competition as China is also investing heavily to accelerate its drug discovery and development sector. In India, the news reports that the central government is planning a drug development cabinet-level post. This group will be charged with discovering new molecules in Indian labs.
The Department of Pharmaceuticals (DoP)
The agency would be under the patent Ministry of Chemicals and Fertilisers, and now apparently is in the works with direct guidance from the Prime Minister’s Office. In a document articulating a five-year vision, the DoP would “stimulate R&D pharma” once the government is reelected. A senior official reported to ThePrint that “it would be the first time that India will have an official to head the R&D in the pharma industry. He or she will be responsible for stimulating the development of new drugs that are commercially viable.”
National Urges Make Way into Industrial Strategy and Policy
An official with the Indian government told ThePrint, “Despite ample ongoing research projects in all the top institutes of India, we haven’t discovered any commercially viable drug molecules.” In a matter of national pride, it’s noted that although India ranks as the third-largest seller of medicines worldwide—with 3,000 pharma companies and a network of 10,500 plus manufacturing facilities—the country isn’t a major player when it comes to developing novel drug molecules. It isn’t branded as a novel inventor of new medicines, but rather a place where generic drug companies can operate and thrive. Could this dynamic be the residual of colonialism? After all, in 1700, India was the world’s largest economy and one of its largest manufacturers and exporters. Then came British colonialism and the establishment of “British Raj” and a paradox of pros and cons followed. Fast forward, and India again has emerged as a global powerhouse—the fifth richest economy in the world. With talent, capital, and wherewithal, why not master drug development?
National drug discovery and development fervor has intensified with the formation of an inter-departmental committee to coordinate R&D activities led by the myriad of elite Indian research centers such as those like the Indian Institutes of Technology (IITs), the National Institutes of Pharmaceutical Education and Research (NIPERs) and the Biotechnology Industry Research Assistance Council (BIRAC) to mention a few. Purportedly led by P.D. Vaghela, Pharma Secretary as well as other joint secretaries, a panel has proposed to create a post for R&D head.
Drug R&D & India Industrial Policy
So what is the problem? India possess incredible resources in the form of deep talent pools for research, a strong scientific labor force, and world-class manufacturing; not to mention its position as the fifth richest GPD worldwide, yet the nation lacks a dynamic “an enabling ecosystem” where research centers — whether they be academic, privately-focused non-profits, or for-profit or government-financed and incubated programs — have continuous and systematic access to viable and sustainable R&D to commercialization prospects.
New industry-academia linkages are proposed with the appropriate government backing, of course. Research gaps must be understood and filled—major research institutions will be invited to the table to participate. This is required because India, at least as of today, lacks an efficient and effective pre-approval market for drug discovery assets. This is despite the fact that the country is home to brilliant people, fantastic companies, and globally branded research centers. The challenge is one of structure, agency, and culture — there is a lack of an adequate “invisible hand” representing rational market forces that efficiently and effectively bring it all together so that it works in a way that can transcend today’s results. Hence, policymakers see the need for action that guides and matches innovators with industry, researchers with investors and scientific pre-approved output with the appropriate R&D commercial apparatus to create a sustainable pipeline of the commercially viable initiative. The hope is that this new governmental apparatus will fill this void and make this happen. TrialSite News is skeptical.