As it gears up to compete on the global drug discovery stage, India's burgeoning pharmaceutical sector hopes that nurturing links with academic and government labs will help it recruit the best medicinal chemists and bring new drugs to market. "Collaborative alliances between industry, academe, and government are an absolute must for the pharma industry to progress in India," says Pradip K. Bhatnagar of Ranbaxy, New Delhi.
For instance, increased interactions with pharma will encourage schools to improve their training in medicinal chemistry, he says. "We need to play a proactive role in guiding academic institutions" to give students the interdisciplinary skills that discovery jobs require, he explains.
Newly minted Ph.D.s coming out of Indian universities are "very bright and hardworking and scientifically no different from those trained in the West," he argues. But he bemoans their lack of "the killer instinct": the urgency he'd like to see among his discovery team members. He hopes that exposure to the competitive drug discovery climate in industry will help instill that urgency in students.
In addition, many Indian pharma companies-including Dr. Reddy's, Ranbaxy, Lupin, and Nicholas Piramal-are experimenting with continuing education programs that give their most promising master's-level chemists a chance to pursue a Ph.D. degree while still pulling down an industry salary. C. Vamsee Krishna, a scientist in discovery chemistry at Dr. Reddy's who is currently pursuing a Ph.D. in total synthesis under the mentorship of the firm's director of discovery, is thankful for the opportunity the company has given him. "This program convinced me to stay in India to do my Ph.D.," he says.
Indian pharma also continues to collaborate with academic institutions for lead identification, particularly for neglected diseases such as malaria. The Indian government's Department of Science & Technology (DST) has introduced funding schemes to encourage such links. Ranbaxy currently is working with Anna University, Chennai, on herbal natural products; with the National Institute for Pharmaceutical Education & Research, in the state of Punjab, on anti-inflammatory leads; and with the National Chemical Laboratory, in Pune, on anti-infective leads. Other Indian drug firms, including Nicholas Piramal and Dr. Reddy's, have similar collaborative links.
DST hopes to duplicate the success of partnerships like that between Lupin and four Council of Scientific & Industrial Research labs, from which has emerged a promising psoriasis treatment now in Phase II testing and a tuberculosis drug now in Phase I testing.