India can become a life science major by 2010

Monday, 24 February 2003, 08:00 Hrs
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NEW DELHI: Hyderabad-born M. Vaman Rao, who calls himself a global Indian, is investing $10 million in a biotechnology facility in his home town - firm in his belief that the country can emerge a life science major by 2010.

"My aim is to create a global pharmaceutical company that can rapidly develop and deliver plant-derived natural molecular compositions (NMCs) as superior medicines for worldwide markets," the Boston, Massachusetts-based Rao, 43, told IANS here.

"Worldwide, a fundamental shift towards improved health and quality of life has triggered a renaissance for plant-derived products. This market has been growing in double digit rates and is estimated to exceed $100 billion," said Rao.

India, he pointed out, was at a natural advantage as the country had been certified by the World Health Organisation (WHO) as one of the four hotspots of plant diversity in the world.

"There are some 30,000 plant species here, of which some 8,000 are known to have use in healthcare, of which some 2,500 are in use. So you can figure out the immense wealth that remains to be tapped," Rao contended.

While in the capital, Rao, who divides his time between the U.S., Britain, Germany, Japan and now India, signed an agreement with the Council of Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR) to commercialise plant-based therapeutics for the global market.

For this, Rao's company Indigene will leverage its proprietary multiplex molecular validation technology (MMVT) that is at the core of the effort. Indigene will inaugurate its research centre in Hyderabad and have a research-cum-marketing centre in Massachusetts.

The medicines developed by Indigene will have applications in areas like metabolic disorders, CNS (central nervous system) disorders, infectious diseases like HIV/AIDS and oncology, Rao said.

Two key developments have propelled the process: the development of MMVT and the permission granted by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to multi-directional research on evolving new medicinal formulations.

"Typically, companies would spend $500-$700 million over a 10 to 12 year period on developing a new drug. Such lead times are unimaginable today. What we aim to do is invest between $35 million and $40 million to develop new products over a four-year period," said Rao.

So, what is MMVT all about?

"Imagine for a moment a circuit board. Hitherto, researchers would tackle one point at the time. With MMVT, we can target multiple points and thus speed up the process and also lower costs," Rao explained.

Rao has put in place an impressive multi-national team to realise his dream.

Rolf-Dieter Rebhuhn, a former chairman of the German Bristol Myers Squibb, is the senior vice president for business development. K. Krishna, who has served as a senior scientist at Yale University in the U.S., is the chief technology officer.

Italian Fransisco J. Batres is the vice president for financial control and operational planning and Frenchman Jean-Christophe Anton the vice president for marketing solutions.

K. Nagaraj, who has worked with Indian pharma majors like Ranbaxy, Sandoz and E.Merck, is the vice president for project and supply management while Gagan Prakash, whose resume includes companies like IBM and GE, is the director for information management.

Rao's selection of his team reflects his own diverse background.

He graduated in chemistry from Hyderabad's Osmania University, where wife Moly was a classmate, and then obtained his masters in organic chemistry from Benaras Hindu University.

His doctoral work at the University of Hyderabad involved the design and development of a synthetic process for Mupirocin, an antibiotic that is being marketed by GlaxoSmithKline as Bactroban.

"In 1999, I founded LifetecNet in Massachusetts. The aim was to develop and deliver IT solutions for managing pharmaceutical product development and supply management globally," Rao said.

By the time he left the company to start Indigene in June 2002, LifetecNet had grown from a one-person start-up to a company with 100 plus employees. It was named as one of the fastest growing companies in the U.S. at the intersection of pharmaceutical and IT industries.

Rao has served on several policy and decision-making committees in Europe and the U.S. He was a member of the Biotechnology Advisory Committee to the minister of industries in Britain and the Business Advisory Council to the U.S. Republican Congressional Committee.

A recipient of the NRI of the Year award from the U.S.-based NRI Welfare Society in 2001, he was named Businessman of the Year in Massachusetts the same year.
Source: IANS
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