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N-deal could mother pharma innovations

The end of nuclear apartheid and the conclusion of the nuclear deal with the US could spell a new era for India’s biotechnology and pharmaceutical companies, report Gaurav Choudhury & Suprotip Ghosh.

business Updated: Sep 09, 2008 21:43 IST

The end of nuclear apartheid at last weekend’s Vienna meeting of the Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG) and the conclusion of the controversial nuclear deal with the US could spell a new era for India’s biotechnology and pharmaceutical companies.

The deal is expected to open up access to critical genetic products and bio-materials, besides the latest technology to deal with them. This could help Indian laboratories boost research and companies discover new drugs, develop vaccines or create lucrative patents. Both trade and transfer agreements could result from the Vienna consensus.

The High Technology Cooperation Group (HTCG) had identified bio-technology among priority areas focus for promoting and facilitating bilateral commerce in advanced technology items between India and the USA.

“Both the governments agreed to support advanced technology transfers that would stimulate capacity building in life sciences,” said a top government official, who did not wish to be identified.

The HTCG was formed in 2002 to provide a standing framework to facilitate and promote high-technology trade between India and the US and instill confidence for trade in sensitive items long kept out of India’s hands because of perceived military sensitivities in the US.

At the last meeting of the group in February, both countries agreed to engage in harmonisation of regulatory systems in medical devices, pharmaceuticals and biotechnology with ultimate objective of improving market access.

“It is a great step towards making our country self-reliant in matters of energy,” Kiran Mazumdar Shaw, chairman and managing director of Biocon said.

Shaw, however, refused to comment on the more specific areas of gain for the biotechnology industry in particular. Biotechnology is a highly regulated industry in both the US and India, and red tape and bureaucratic hurdles linked to security and safety make the industry difficult to predict.

The chief executive officer of a leading biotech company said access to critical genetic products would spur growth in India’s biotech industry.

“The same genetic product is used for making some vaccines as well as anthrax. A well defined dual use technology trade protocol would help import of such products by India’s bio-medical companies,” he said, referring to items whose trade was restricted because of fears that civilian material could be diverted for military use.

Drug discovery research is also expected to get a fillip as export restrictions on dual-use machinery get eased.