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India needs innovation boost to kick-start drug discovery; study

By Nick Taylor , 21-Feb-2012
Last updated the 21-Feb-2012 at 10:36 GMT

Researchers have said the outlook of drug discovery in India is “poor” after analysing intellectual property generated by CROs.

In recent years Western businesses have turned to Indian CROs (contract research organisation) and biopharma companies in search of affordable and effective research and development (R&D). However, a study suggests little of the work handled by Indian partners is innovative.

This finding should be a matter of concern to the Indian government that the domestic Indian industry is not big or sophisticated enough to attract more outsourced R&D work that involves inventorship by the Indian company”, researchers wrote in the journal Current Science .

To assess innovation in biopharma outsourcing the researchers looked at US patents that have an Indian inventor. Of the 4,094 US patents with at least one Indian inventor, 20 met the researchers’ criteria.

Each of these patents was assigned to a US or European biopharma company but invented, at least in part, by an Indian CRO or academic group. Isolating this subsection of the US patent data gives a crude picture of the level of innovation handled by Indian partners.

The researchers acknowledge the data is ‘imperfect’ but think it is nonetheless of importance to the future of drug discovery in India. “If creative skills in the drug discovery process are not being honed, the prospects of original drug discovery in India are poor”, the researchers wrote.

The patents are concentrated at two companies, Genzyme and Millennium Pharmaceuticals, which own more than three-quarters of the intellectual property generated by India-based partners. Basilea Pharmaceutica, Abbott Laboratories, and Servier account for the rest of the patents.

Fledgling industry

All of the patents relate to chemistry, a traditional strength in India, and none to biology. This fits with the overall picture for Indian biopharma companies’ US patents, 95 per cent of which are for chemistry inventions, the researchers wrote.

None of the patents were filed in the last three years of the study, from 2006 to 2009. At this time many Western biopharma companies, such as Wyeth and Eli Lilly, formed joint-ventures with their Indian counterparts but these partnerships could have filed patents after the study’s cut-off date.

There is work of good quality happening here. Moreover, a patent that reflects in the databases usually takes many years and the pharma biotech sector is just about beginning to take off in India”, Chandrasekhar Nair, founder director of Bigtec Labs, told Livemint .

The success of these ventures is unclear. In the past year Merck has cut ties to Ranbaxy and Lilly has ended its joint-venture with Jubilant Life Sciences. On a brighter note, last week India-based CRO TCG Lifesciences said it has delivered a molecule to Pfizer as part of a collaboration that began in 2009.

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