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Norms relaxed to encourage biotech entrepreneurs, says Kapil Sibal

The Empowered Group of Ministers on Biotechnology has cleared proposals to relax norms for the biotechnology sector in agriculture and health in order to encourage entrepreneurship, innovation and greater participation from small investors, Union Minister for Science and Technology Kapil Sibal said here on June 7.

Inaugurating the Bangalore Bio 2006, the sixth edition of the annual biotechnology show, Mr. Sibal said post-liberalisation, India was poised to be in the forefront of growth of the knowledge economy. It ought not to miss the bus in trying to provide affordable biotechnology solutions to the growing food insecurity and demand for affordable healthcare solutions.

Though it was laudable that India's turnover in the sector had crossed $1.45 billion and one per cent of the revenue was being pumped back into research and development, it was not enough, he said. Mr. Sibal said Indian biotechnology solutions should be relevant to the Indian context, where answers were being sought to diseases such as tuberculosis, malaria, water-borne infections and AIDS.

Much of the profit came from export of bulk drugs, he pointed out, and urged the pharmaceutical sector to make the most of the opportunity and the potential. "What takes $2 billion to produce a drug in the U.S. can be done in India for $500 million. So why should India have to depend on expensive drugs it can ill afford to treat endemic diseases and provide quality healthcare," he asked.

Mr. Sibal, however, conceded that the Government too had the responsibility of creating infrastructure and the environment required for the sector to quickly transfer technology and solutions. "Begin now to invest in tackling diseases confronting our poor, and together we can truly make India a biotech giant," he said.

Soon 3.5 million hectares of land would be under Bt cotton, while Bt brinjal and other crops were ready to move forward past the field trials stage, he said.

Kiran Mazumdar-Shaw, chairperson of the Vision Group on Biotechnology and chairperson of the Biocon Group, said the biotechnology sector turnover for 2005-06 crossed Rs. 6,521 crore ($1.45 billion), of which the biopharma sector's share was Rs. 4,708 crore. The industry grew at 37 per cent during the year and investment was Rs. 1,650 crore.

Chief Minister H.D. Kumaraswamy released the “Report on Bioclusters,” a special supplement brought out by Biospectrum magazine. He said the State Cabinet had cleared the Rs. 103-crore Bangalore Helix Biotechnology Park project. The Government was keen on retaining Bangalore's reputation as the information technology and biotechnology capita.

Though Bangalore continued to be the top biotechnology destination, this time the western region had claimed first place with a total turnover of Rs. 3,234 crore. The South followed with Rs. 2,367 crore and the North had notched up Rs. 920 crore, he said. However, Karnataka continued to be home to 55 per cent of the industry, with 175 companies opened during the year. Of this, 158 were in Bangalore.

Ms. Mazumdar-Shaw said that at this rate, crossing the target of $5 billion in turnover by 2010 would be easy.

British High Commissioner to India Sir Michael Arthur, French Ambassador Dominique Girard, the Netherlands Ambassador E.F. Charles Niehe and Swedish Ambassador Inga Eriksson Fogh were present.

These countries had pavilions showcasing the biotechnology industry in their respective countries at the three-day conference and exhibition.


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