By Priya Kumari
In a recent study by scientists from UT South-Western Medical Center, long pepper, the common ingredient of Indian and Indonesian spices, was found to have medicinal properties that can help treat cancer. It contains a chemical called Piperlongumine (PL) that converts to hPL, an active drug that suppresses a gene called GSTP1. The GSTP1 gene produces a detoxification enzyme that is commonly associated with tumors. Such an exemplary case of unexplored potential in common natural resources forces us to take a closer look at the state of research and development in India.
Pedagogy in research
To cite the data, India spends 0.9% of its GDP on Research & Development. While the figure represents a sad state of affairs, the gravity of the problem is vested in deeper institutional limitations. The educational sector is more engrossed in imparting theoretical knowledge. There is lesser emphasis on product development and practical applications. Coupled with societal emphasis on sparkling pay packages, it eventually deteriorates the knack for problem solving and innovation. Those who manage to keep their enthusiasm alive for research have to deal with lack of facilities or face delayed funding issues.
[su_pullquote]Another major issue hindering the development of research is lack of inter-disciplinary opportunities.[/su_pullquote]
If India has to become truly developed, the focus has to shift from manufacturing products based on imported technologies to developing an environment conducive for new discoveries and inventions. It will result in substantial savings from licensing foreign patents and technologies. Another major issue hindering the development of research is lack of inter-disciplinary opportunities. Apart from a few Ivy League colleges in India, most others do not have a flexible curriculum to enable students to explore areas other than their majors. More often than not, important discoveries are found at an intersection of various fields. For example, psychology and medicine together might result in discovering cures for serious mental illnesses.
To review the science side of research
[su_pullquote align=”right”]India’s pharmaceutical markets have a dominance of local players with low prices due to high competition.[/su_pullquote]
In the context of the recent developments, the Indian pharmaceutical sector presents an intriguing story. Globally, India ranks tenth in terms of value, and third in terms of volume. This comes as no surprise when one looks at the rising population base and increasing transition to urban lifestyle. The healthcare sector in India grew at a CAGR of 17% from USD 6 billion to USD 36.7 billion during the period 2015-16. India’s pharmaceutical markets have a dominance of local players with low prices due to high competition. Branded generic products make up 70-80% of the market.Research, especially in the medicinal field has to catch up to the rising affordability of India’s demography | Photo Courtesy – Global Spec
With rising income levels leading to improving living standards, people are becoming increasingly health conscious. This will translate to greater affordability and increasing insurance coverage which will fuel a greater demand for pharmaceutical products. Big players will affect market creation for modern medicines and preventive medication. There is considerable investment being pumped into the pharmaceutical sphere.
Assistance by government intervention
The government has allowed 100% FDI without prior permission in this sector. As per data released by the Department of Industrial Policy and Promotion (DIPP), there was FDI worth USD 1,523 Million during April 2014-March 2015 in the drugs and pharmaceuticals industry in India. This opens avenues for more funds for research and development entry of new technologies. It will also strengthen the long term position by creation of patents and other intellectual property rights. The government is planning a huge investment in the pharma sector. It proposes 50% public funding through Public Private Partnership (PPP) model under the aegis of “Pharma Vision 2020”.
[su_pullquote]However, the major issue facing the Indian pharmaceutical industry is the fact that it lacks expertise in new drug discovery and development.[/su_pullquote]
Another form of government support is in the form of tax breaks for the expenses on R&D. However, the major issue facing the Indian pharmaceutical industry is the fact that it lacks expertise in new drug discovery and development. There was a significant increase in the number of patents granted after the signing of the TRIPS agreement in 2005 but the number has been falling or stagnant since then.
Further, the immense power of naturally occurring flora and fauna remains largely unexplored. To ensure holistic development, there is need for the traditional Ayurvedic knowledge and expertise to go hand in hand with modern, chemical medicines and biologics. Therefore, there is immense potential awaiting to be captured by the pharmaceuticals segment undergoing massive transition.
Featured Photo Courtesy: UFAG
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