Medical research in India is non-existent and experts put the failure down to the complete lack of coordination between policymakers, researchers and the pharma industry. Thanks to the disconnect, most of the research remains open-ended.
A typical example is the new vaccine discovered by researchers at the National Institute of Immunology (NII) to treat 30 per cent of multi-drug resistant leprosy cases. When the vaccine was ready, the government didn’t want it. They said, ‘we didn’t ask you to do it, our leprosy programme is going so well, we don’t want to introduce a new element now’.
“What researchers need to do is sit with policymakers and the industry to understand their needs before starting work,” says Dr Ranjit Roy Chaudhury, emeritus scientist, NII. Central institutes such as the Indian Council of Medical Research, Centre for Cellular andMolecular Biology, Hyderabad, National Institute of Cholera and Enteric Diseases (NICED), Kolkata, and the NII Delhi are doing frontier research, but their projects have few takers.
Two years ago, the NICED developed diagnostic kits for malaria, but the pharma industry is not interested because they found it easier and cheaper to them! India has done no better when it comes to discovering new molecules to treat diseases. Drug discovery and development is a multi-billion dollar global industry and India’s stake in it is in decimal points. “No new molecules are being discovered.
What’s happening is just peripheral researchwhere the industry is developing new formulations of existing drugs or new routes of drug delivery and getting patents for those. With this kind of research, India cannot capture even 0.5 per cent of the drug R&D market,” says Dr CM Gulati, drug expert and editor of Monthly Index of Medical Specialties.
The trouble is the ambience and atmosphere needed for pure science research is missing. “Unlike in the West, universities here have no medical research to speak of. Even if the private sector puts in money and their researchers discover a new molecule, they send it abroad for development because they do not have the pharmacokinetics and toxicology facilities needed,” says Roy Chaudhury.
Now hopes are pinned on genome, stem cell and biotech research, only if industry and the research fraternity work more closely. But that would need policy interventions such as significantly higher investments in R&D and a clear roadmap for public private partnership.