‘India can offer cost-effective clinical trials to Australia’

By Neena Bhandari, IANS,

Melbourne : Australia will need to look beyond the US and Europe to translate its expertise in basic research into inventing drugs in the current economic scenario and cost-effective India could fill the gap, says the CEO of an Indian biotech firm.

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“Australia has phenomenal strength in basic research in early drug discovery and identifying disease targets. My perception is to somehow translate this early drug discovery into identifying drug candidates for pre-clinical trials and clinical trials, wherein lies India’s strength,” Rashmi H. Barbhaiya, founder and CEO of Bangalore-based Advinus Therapeutics Pvt Ltd, told IANS.

Speaking at a three-day conference (Oct 27-29) organised by Ausbiotech, Australia’s national biotechnology industry association, Barbhaiya said India can offer developed countries cost savings of up to 60 percent for the early stages of the development of innovative medical technology.

“In today’s economic scenario, Australia will need to look beyond America and Europe to Asia to translate its basic drug research strength into drugs,” Barbhaiya said.

In the next four years, spending on drug development in the Asia-Pacific region is expected to grow from eight percent of global spending to 37 percent, with India and China being the two fastest-growing countries.

China and India have been key players in Asia’s pharmaceutical sector. Recent studies show that India, with over 100 FDA-approved facilities, boasts of the largest number of approved pharmaceutical facilities outside the US.

The number of clinical trials in the region has been increasing rapidly and China has some 870 completed or ongoing trials, compared with 737 in India.

A recent study by Pricewaterhouse Coopers shows that industry players are increasingly looking to outsource more than just low-end segments of their businesses, and Asia is the preferred location.

“At the moment, Asian companies may not have as much appreciation of what Australia has to offer in the field of biotechnology and vice versa. This will change with continued dialogue and mutual understanding,” Barbhaiya told IANS.

Australia is the number one location for biotechnology in the Asia Pacific region and sixth in the world, with the state of Victoria having 30 percent of Australian medical and pharmaceutical companies.

Breakthroughs in biotech areas as diverse as influenza, stem cells, cancer, reproductive medicine, diabetes and neuroscience underscore the research strengths of Victoria’s capital Melbourne, a favoured destination for young professional Indian migrants and Indian students.

The state government has been keen to attract and connect with international biotechnology researchers, technicians and entrepreneurs. Melbourne, home to 141 biotech companies, has joined London and Boston as one of only three cities in the world with two universities in the global op 20 biomedical rankings.

“Most Australian academic institutions part with Intellectual Property Rights (IPR) at an early stage. A collaboration with our (Indian) industry can convert their IPR into a meaningful product where its Net Present Value (NPV) can be increased in an exponential manner,” Barbhaiya said.

His company provides global biotechnology firms services for drug development.

In October 2004, Australia and India’s two peak biotechnology industry bodies – AusBiotech and the Association of Biotechnology Led Enterprises (ABLE) – formalised institutional linkages through the signing of a memorandum of understanding (MoU).

“The MoU between the two countries forms a basis for collaboration whereby the two countries can utilise their strengths to develop products for the world,” said Shrikumar Suryanarayan, director general at ABLE.