Bioinformatics is one of the fastest-expanding fields in India's biotechnology sector today. There are over 200 companies
in Bangalore, Hyderabad, Pune, Chennai, and Delhi that are in some way involved in bioinformatics. Large IT organizations
such as Intel, IBM, and Wipro are also getting into this sector in India. Just as important, over 300 college-level institutes
across India now offer degrees in biotechnology, bioinformatics, and biological sciences. These facilities are educating millions
of students annually. This educational base is creating a solid future for India's bioinformatics industry.
Much of this growth is because of the linkages between IT and biotechnology. India's software engineers are established around
the globe. This breadth of expertise is, in turn, creating an engine for global biopharmaceutical growth. In fact, because
of India's global presence in bioinformatics, Indian scientists and bioinformatics professionals are in high demand.
Today, the country's talented software engineers are establishing themselves as more than just inexpensive. As a result, salary
differentials today are shrinking quickly. Engineers in India today command salaries around half those in the US, compared
with as little as one fourth in 2001, according to John Morrow, PhD, president of Newport Biotech (Newport, KY), and a contributing
editor to the recent joint BioPlan Associates and Society for Industrial Microbiology publication, Advances in Biopharmaceutical Technology in India.1 Thus, as India heads toward salary parity with the West, the country's bioinformatics sector is expected to provide innovative
technology advantages, not just cost advantages. Morrow notes, "Innovation in bioinformatics is driving internal demands,
and R&D in India will ultimately produce technologies that are unavailable in the EU and US."
India's government recognizes the opportunities and is investing heavily. India's Department of Biotechnology, for example,
has supported improvements in intellectual property protection. The government also supports the industry through financial
incentives, tax benefits, and loans for R&D activities to both the public and private sectors. Manju Sharma, PhD, former director
of the Department of Biotechnology, says that the biotech industry could become the "single largest sector for employment
of skilled human resources in the years to come."1
India was one of the first countries in the world to establish a nationwide bioinformatics network. The Department of Biotechnology
(DBT) initiated a program on bioinformatics in 1986. The Biotechnology Information System Network (BTIS), a division of DBT,
now connects 57 key research centers, covering the entire country. More than 100 databases for biotechnology have been developed.
Two databases, namely one that covers data regarding the coconut genome and another that contains the complete genome of the
white spota syndrome of shrimp, have been released for public use. In addition, several major international databases with
applications for genomics and proteomics have been established under the National Jai Vigyan Mission.
BTIS also has decided to establish five advanced research and training centers. These Centers of Excellence (COE) in Bioinformatics
undertake advanced research in bioinformatics, provide PhD and postdoctoral training, develop new solutions to support the
Indian Bioinformatics industry and its academic institutions in India, help in solving complex biological problems, and retain
required high-end manpower.
The core R&D strength in Indian biotechnology is its relatively well-educated and trained labor force, with a strong base
of English-speaking scientists who are well versed in mathematics, physics, and chemistry. Thus, the country has the scientific
skills that encompass capabilities for handling all aspects of biological information acquisition, processing, analysis, and
India's well-known software skills are, of course, another key advantage in global bioinformatics. For example, notes Nanda
Kumar, PhD, an attorney at Reed Smith LLP (Philadelphia, PA), India's professionals have the capabilities to build tools such
as biochips (particularly biochips patented outside India). Lack of government interference is another advantage. "There is
freedom to operate in India and perform data analysis related to genomic sequencing, functional genomics, and proteomics fields,"
says Kumar. "These advantages are fueling the outsourcing of bioinformatics services to India."