Impressions of India: Biotech comers ready to break out

India is a blend of traditional and modern cultures. Navigating the chaotic streets of Bangalore, Delhi or Mumbai means maneuvering among modern Toyotas, lumbering trucks and rickety buses, three-wheeled taxis, or “tok toks,” bicycles, push carts — all of this and more.

These are just a few of BIO President and CEO Jim Greenwood’s initial impressions following tour of the country in preparation for the organization’s first-ever BIO India International Partnering Conference in Hyderabad, India.

The meeting, set for September 2010, will bring together biotechnology and pharmaceutical companies from Asia, Europe and North America to explore business opportunities with India’s emerging biotech sector.

Greenwood travelled throughout India in November to promote the event and assess the country’s biotech capabilities and needs. He says India has made significant progress in improving its intellectual property protection but needs to go further still if it wants to become a significant biotech contributor.

“India’s strengths have historically been more in chemistry than in biology, which accounts for its greater skills in making follow-on products than in innovating its own,” Greenwood says.

“As India grows its biotechnology capacity, part of its challenge will be to figure out how its brightest scientists and entrepreneurs can keep pace with the rest of the world as it simultaneously grapples with building its educational, transportation and public-utility capacities.”

On the Biotech Trail

The first stop on Greenwood’s excursion was Mumbai, where he visited Reliance Life Sciences, a company striving to become a leader in drug discovery, agricultural biotech and biofuels.

Next it was on to Piramal Life Sciences, which focuses on four therapeutic areas: cancer, diabetes, inflammation and infectious diseases. The company has a pipeline of 14 compounds, including four in clinical trials. Piramal also has drug discovery and development agreements with Eli Lilly and Merck.

After Piramal, Greenwood met with the Organisation of Pharmaceutical Producers of India, which includes several BIO members. Officials from the Indian trade group suggested that BIO encourage the U.S. Food and Drug Administration to work with its Indian counterpart to provide training to improve India’s drug approval process.

Other stops included a keynote address at India’s BioInvest Forum, a visit to Genzyme’s Delhi office and meetings with India’s secretary of the department of pharmaceuticals and minister of science and technology.

During a final stop in Mumbai, Greenwood met with officials from Avesthagen, Biocn, Metahelix, Monsanto, the National Centre of Biological Sciences and Strand Life Sciences