Dr D Balasubramanian, director of research, L V Prasad Eye Institute, Hyderabad
Q: What kind of market exists in India for the stem cells?
As of today, most of the companies that work in this area are limited to cord blood banking. These operate with a hope that sooner or later they will find a market for it. There are only few who are actually doing anything beyond it as those which could give any methods or scaffolds so as to grow cells. There are two ways of growing cells, either by suspending the cells in culture or provide a biological surface such as collagen as well as synthetic polymers. Third has to do something with research which is the path less trodden by the companies. There is a company in Chennai that gives dental pulp and the Reliance Life Sciences in Mumbai says it can remove limbal cells, culture these and give back. So we can say that there are two types of companies: Storage and banking; Cell culture provision for researchers and clinicians. Very few companies are actually involved in research by themselves. I think a good example is Bangalore based Stempeutics which interacts with clinicians and scientists, providing them with technical support. This is by and large the kind of stem cell we have here in India.
I think there will be growth other than banking. Stem cells might diversify into handling cells or providing materials. New technologies have come. I have talked about gene repair technologies (repair of a mutant gene using new techniques). I am sure may be the forward looking companies will become partners. Here again the market size is not going to be large because remember that there are only few standard of care technologies available as per guidelines.
Q: Nanobiotech and stem cells have generated much hope. How do you look at it?
The market for both is rather poor. I am afraid neither in nano nor in the stem cells, we have been able to achieve much. There are no start ups coming up and besides that the technology development is far too less. There is a government appointed nano-mission focused mostly on laboratory research but less on translation or applications. Applications as publications are very important. People compare biotech with IT but there is a disconnect here. It may be bigger than IT in potential applications but translation into application on large scale in real life has not happened.