-Dr Vishwa Mohan Katoch
director general, Indian Council of Medical Research and secretary,
Department of Health Research, New Delhi
The Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR), New Delhi,
the apex body in India for the formulation, coordination and promotion
of biomedical research, is one of the oldest medical research bodies in
the world. It is funded by the Department of Health Research (DHR),
Ministry of Health and Family Welfare, Government of India.
ICMR promotes biomedical research in the country through intramural as
well as extramural researches, and the DHR aims at bringing modern
health technology to people by encouraging, translating and introducing
innovations into public health service through research on
In an exclusive interview with BioSpectrum, Dr Vishwa Mohan Katoch,
director general, Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR) and
secretary, Department of Health Research, New Delhi, shares his views
on key operations and priorities of ICMR, translational research, role
of DHR and a host of other issues.
Which diseases are
considered as top priority by the ICMR and what are the steps taken to
Diseases of major public health importance are our priorities.
Communicable diseases such as influenza, poliomyelitis, HIV,
tuberculosis, malaria, and diarrhoea; non-communicable diseases such as
diabetes mellitus, cardiovascular diseases, cancer, and central nervous
system-related disorders; reproductive health issues such as
development of new contraceptives for both male and female,
infertility, reproductive tract infections, menopause and osteoporosis;
and healthcare issues related to tribal and marginalized populations,
are some of the priority areas for ICAR.
What are the initiatives
taken by the ICMR to promote translational research?
In the 10th Five Year Plan, the ICMR gave importance to developing
infrastructure for conducting fundamental and strategic research. This
has resulted in research that has provided encouraging leads for
developing new products. In the 11th Five Year Plan, efforts are taken
to develop products. Based on a list of programs that have the
potential for translation into the National Health Care
Program/Clinical Practice, the secretary of the DHR, had identified
about 103 technologies/programs out of which 53 top priority
technologies/programs were short-listed on a priority basis.
The Scientific Advisory Group took stock of the technologies developed
and recommended that a unit be created at the ICMR headquarters,
and cells to be created at the institute-level, to closely monitor the
progress, and extend all assistance translational research.
Accordingly, 26 translational research cells with three to four
members, and a chairperson have been formed at each of the 26 ICMR's
institutes/centers. The list of these technologies are updated every
three-to six months depending on the priority of the project. Moreover,
scientists at some of the institutes have also planned to initiate new
projects under translational research. Workshops were also conducted
for dissemination of scientific knowledge for its wider application and
its potential for commercialization.
What kind of
collaborations are initiated by the ICMR with the industry?
The ICMR is partnering with the industry in development and evaluation
of new vaccines, drugs and diagnostic tests. Some of the
technologies developed at the ICMR institutes are shared with the
National Research Development Corporation (NRDC) and the Biotechnology
Industry Research Assistance Council (BIRAC) for
What is the role of
DHR in transferring technology for the benefit of people?
Development of infrastructure for technology transfer is the thrust
area of the DHR, whereas the ICMR serves as the fulcrum for all
scientific activities aimed at generation of knowledge and its
evaluation. The DHR supports medical colleges and state governments for
setting up of model rural research units, virology networks, and
specialized centers; and also for improving research governance. The
technologies that are developed by the ICMR institutes would be
considered on a priority basis, to develop products that are useful for
Which are the areas of
focus for ICMR in the coming years?
The ICMR is addressing issues related to encouraging healthcare
research in medical colleges, strengthening capabilities and skills of
the institutions for diagnosis of viral diseases; translation of
promising leads generated in the institutes of the ICMR into products;
and setting up of specialized centers in project mode. And at the same
time, if these centers need long-term support, they would be moved
under the DHR.
Our future focus is on research programs aimed at control and
management of infectious diseases, improving the healthcare of people
living in the North-Eastern States and also in marginalized populations.
What are your views on the
regulatory mechanism existing in India?
Technology should reach the people. However, there is a need for strict
evaluation, and for that purpose, if more people are required, then we
will recruit accordingly. Also, there should be a specific timeframe
for resolving all the related issues.
Rahul Koul in New Delhi