India also offers pro-pharma government policies. The New Millennium Indian Technology Leadership Initiative (NMITLI), launched
by the Council of Scientific & Industrial Research (CSIR), provides financial support as grants-in-aid to institutional and
industrial partners. Since 2003, it has funded 37 projects involving 65 industry partners and 175 R&D institutions with an
estimated outlay of $67.5 million. Of the 37 on-going projects, four are in bioinformatics.
A full understanding of the complex IT requirements and biotechnology processes is key for IT suppliers if they are to bridge
the gap between IT and biotechnology. From the BioPlan study, some major opportunity areas for IT companies include:
- Creating mechanisms to support effective approaches for producing robust software that can be widely shared
- As major pharmaceutical and genome-based biotech companies invest heavily in software, Indian IT companies have the opportunity
to offer complete database solutions
- Improving the content and utility of databases
- Developing better tools for data generation, capture, and annotation
- Developing and improving tools and databases for comprehensive functional studies
- Developing and improving tools for representing and analyzing sequence similarity and variation.
Because of the small size of most organizations in the field, the lack of sufficient educational programs, and inadequate
financial rewards, commercialization of basic science discoveries into industrial products is limited.
A major issue in India is the level of skills required to develop custom applications to integrate geographically and functionally
separate databases and programs. Many biotech professionals have superficial IT knowledge, according to the study. Often,
those who opt for bioinformatics have life sciences backgrounds, and have not been exposed to the IT side of bioinformatics.
This problem, however, is not limited to India. According to Kristina Obom, PhD, associate program chair, Biotechnology, at
Johns Hopkins University (Baltimore, MD), "Bioinformatics is an important part of R&D in Biotechnology. Training and education
are essential in bioinformatics as it requires complex skills in computer science, bioscience, and IT. Most scientists in
biotech today simply do not have all the necessary skills to be successful in the field. This lack of education tends to prolong
R&D and increase costs of discovery."
Indian IT companies have an opportunity to offer complete database solutions to major pharmaceutical and genome-based biotech
companies. The IT industry can take advantage of opportunities in bioinformation through offerings in hardware, database packages,
implementation and customization of software, and functional database enhancements.
Venture capital and other funding sources are still needed, though. This may require concurrent support from government agencies,
in the form of building infrastructure and funding of small- and medium-sized entrepreneurs. Foreign companies can offer knowledge
Indian companies may lack, so partnering will likely become an important element in this segment's growth, as Indian companies
increasingly recognize that expertise in bioinformatics is not enough without expertise in areas such as lead generation,
toxicology studies, regulatory affairs, and patenting.
Eric Langer is president and managing partner at BioPlan Associates, Inc., Rockville, MD. He is also the editor of Advances in Biopharmaceutical Technology in India, 301.921.9074. email@example.com
1. Sawant D. Life sciences education in India. In: Langer ES, editor. Advances in Biopharmaceutical Technology in India.
Rockville, MD: BioPlan Associates Inc. and Society for Industrial Microbiology. 2008.