Is AIIMS undergoing a burn-out? While major biotech and pharma companies are queuing up for collaborations in R&D research, the premier institute seems to actively discourage tie-ups that can allow it to patent new drugs and vaccines. The result? The collaboration and tie-ups go to private hospitals.
Case in point: Drug major GlaxoSmithKline (GSK) which wanted India to be part of its global collaborative trials. GSK sent AIIMS a proposal in December, seven months later it is still to hear from the institute. And last month it finally tied up with a corporate hospital which cleared the proposal in three weeks.
“When there is a race to develop new drugs and get patents, which international investigator will wait six months just to get the AIIMS ethics committee to clear the proposal?” asks a GSK official.
The ethics committee used to meet only one in three or four months some two years ago, confirms former member secretary Dr Srinath Reddy, who handed charge to Dr Nikhil Tandon last month. “Now we meet every two months. We try to fast-track applications but technical and protocol issues need to be satisfied and these take up to six months.” he says.
Then there is the quality of research coming out of India's premier medical institute. Dr P Venugopal's stem cell project that involved injecting stem cells into heart failure patients in February 2005 was the last major project out of AIIMS. But the study still hasn't been published in a medical journal. Dr Venugopal wouldn’t comment. His friends say the announcement was premature; his critics say it was just hype.
Despite the setbacks, pharma companies remain keen to have research tie-ups with AIIMS, even at the cost of sinking in money. Some years ago Ranbaxy offered Rs 50 lakh to refurbish AIIMS’s department of clinical pharmacology in return for clinical trial tie-ups to test new drugs. It did not hear from the institute again.
Even the Centre's Jawed Chowdhury Expert Committee Report notes that “much of the research output is of a nature that may not have an immediate practical application.”
Says Dr JN Pande, former head of medicine: “The bulk of the research are case reports.” A solution he says would be to once again make the hospital a referral centre and not a general hospital where 7,000 people visit the OPD every day.