• 15 January 2010
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First Asian genome study maps the birth place of Asia

Over 90 top geneticists from Asia have jointly concluded from their first-of-its-kind landmark study of Asian genetic populations that South East Asia was the 'center of the Asian universe' millions of years ago, and there was a single major inflow of migration from South East Asia to Northern and Eastern parts of Asia.

This landmark study, done by the Pan-Asian SNP Consortium under the Human Genome Organization (HUGO) disproves the earlier global studies which had predicted that there were multiple inflows of human migration from Northern and Southern routes from other parts of the world into Asia in ancient times. This breakthrough discovery has emerged from the first-ever study of the genomes of 73 South East Asian and East Asian populations done by HUGO scientists. So far, such genome-wide studies of human genetic diversity have been done only on European populations.

“This study was a milestone not only in the science that emerged, but the consortium that was formed when ten Asian countries came together in the spirit of solidarity to understand how we were related as a people, and we finished with a truly Asian scientific community. We overcame shortage of funds and diverse operational constraints through partnerships, good will, and cultural sensitivity,” said Prof. Edison Liu, president of HUGO and executive director at the Genome Institute of Singapore (GIS). He is one of the lead authors of the study and coordinated it.

“We have breached political and ideological boundaries to show that the people of Asia are linked by a unifying genetic thread. It was exciting to work together with scientists of such high caliber with contrary views and of diverse background –kudos to Prof Ed Liu,” said Prof. Samir K Brahmachari, one of India’s leading geneticists and director-general of the Council of Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR), New Delhi. The findings were published online in a report in Science on December 10, 2009.

Narayanan Suresh

Karnataka unveils Millenium Biotech Policy II

The Karnataka Government on December 9, 2009, unveiled its Millennium Biotech Policy II, which replaces the earlier policy statement issued in 2001. The new policy lists the progress made since then and also outlines steps to further spur the development of the biotechnology industry and harness its benefits for the common citizen in the years to come.

As a focus area, the policy makes special commitments in the area of biofuels. Karnataka has joined the international movement to go green. The state has set a goal to meet 20 percent of its fuel needs from biofuels by 2020.

The state together with the Government of India has proposed to set up a Bio IT park in the Institute of Bioinformatics and Applied Biotechnology (IBAB) campus on a PPP model with an investment of Rs 20 crore. The Bio IT facility will be a hub for both IT and life sciences organizations, research institutions and academia.

In a step towards improving the quality of human resources for the biotechnology sector, the government will promote 10 biotech finishing schools selected by the Association of Biotechnology Led Enterprises (ABLE) and the Vision Group on Biotechnology with the government financial support of Rs 1 crore per finishing school.

According to Ashok Kumar Manoli, principal secretary, Information Technology and Biotechnology, Karnataka, “The concessions to the biotechnology companies including the tariffs in the state is likely to amount to a minimum of Rs 400 crore.”

Among the new concessions offered by the new policy, which was formulated by the Vision Group on Biotechnology, is the waiver for biotech research and development units from approvals by the State Pollution Control Department. The policy also offers agri-biotech companies greater freedom to conduct field trials. They will be facilitated in acquiring tillable agricultural land to the tune of 15-20 acres. This will solely be for companies performing agri-biotech related research, and will be in the form of a 35 year lease.

Among the fiscal incentives on offer are interest-free loans from the government for paying value added tax, and subsidies for registration of patents, power and water. Moreover, biotech units will also be eligible for subsidies to meet expenses incurred for standardization certification.

Apart from these exemptions, biotech units will also be eligible for other benefits that are provided for industries on terms set in the state industrial policy.

The policy sets to establish five specialized biotech parks in Mysore, Mangalore, Dharwad and Bidar, apart from the Bangalore Helix Park that is under construction. The government would invest Rs 100- 150 crore in each of the facilities.

The government would also establish a Bio Venture Fund with a corpus of Rs 50 crore in partnership with a professional venture capital firm. Only certain hi-tech areas with a strong social relevance such as transgenics, stem cell biology and biomanufacturing would be eligible for funding. The government will have 26 percent stake in the proposed fund and the balance 74 percent will come from financial institutions or VC firms. Also on the agenda is the creation of a fund to commercialize research findings. The Karnataka State Government will set apart a corpus fund of Rs 15-20 crore which will be used to issue grants in Rs 10-29 lakh range in each case.

National biofuels policy 2009 announced

The Ministry for New and Renewable Energy, Government of India, announced the national biofuels policy on December 23, 2009.

The policy document focuses on multi-sphere development both at the national and state levels by promoting the biofuel plantation and processing. Business houses and corporates shall find the policy favorable in most of the aspects and the industry as such shall face a positive transformation by having a clear policy in hand to operate.

The document addresses all the issues across the entire value chain from feedstock research to marketing of the end fuel. Broadly, the indicative targets of 20 percent blending, community development through energy plantations, incentivizing the operations across the value chain, regulating the marketing and distribution of biofuels, will offer a level playing field for all the stakeholders involved.

India among top 5 funders of neglected diseases

India and Brazil are now in the top 5 government funders of neglected disease R&D and are taking the lead on diseases like leprosy and dengue fever. An annual survey of investment into neglected disease R&D shows that $2.96 billion (about Rs 13,832 crore) was spent on making new products for neglected diseases in 2008.
A key finding of the G-FINDER survey was that, for some diseases, traditional donor funding is being replaced by investment from pharmaceutical companies and by Innovative Developing Countries (IDCs) such as Brazil, India and South Africa. Where there is no profitable market, as with many of the diseases that affect sub-Saharan Africa, R&D remains heavily reliant on traditional donors.

This trend reflects the growing research strength and pharmaceutical markets of India and Brazil, in particular, as well as high local incidence of diseases such as leprosy and dengue. The downside of this trend is that diseases of Africa continue to rely on donors, who still provide over 85 percent of funds for buruli ulcer, trachoma, and sleeping sickness.

Biocon, HCG join hands to fight cervical cancer

Biocon and HCG group of hospitals have announced their partnership to conduct a study to evaluate the potential benefits of BIOMAb EGFR in cervical cancer patients. This unique molecule would take healthcare for cervical cancer patients to a new threshold. BIOMAb EGFR is Biocon's humanized monoclonal antibody which is approved for the treatment of head and neck cancers in India.

The study will be conducted for six years in various centers of HCG across the country, involving many eminent oncologists and will be in compliance to ICH-GCP guidelines. The participating centers are Bangalore, Mysore, Vijayavada, Ranchi, Cuttack and Nashik.

Dr Kiran Mazumdar Shaw, managing director of Biocon said that the partnership is in the light of the unmet need for an effective treatment option for the large number of cervical cancer patients in our country. "I see this collaborative model of Biocon's unique humanized MAb and HCG's state-of-the-art facilities as a big step towards developing India as a global destination for translational research and cutting-edge clinical trials," she said.

Praj, Novozymes sign pact for advanced biofuels

Praj Industries, a diversified biofuel and brewery technology solutions provider, has collaborated with Novozymes, a global enzyme provider to the biofuel industry. Together, Praj and Novozymes will optimize the enzymatic hydrolysis processes and the use of enzymes in the production of advanced biofuels. The collaboration agreement was signed in Copenhagen, Denmark, by Pramod Chaudhari, chairman of Praj Industries and Steen Riisgaard, president and CEO of Novozymes.

Chaudhari said that Praj is engaged in pilot trials of advanced biofuels at Praj-Matrix Innovation Center in India. Praj's progress in cellulose-to-ethanol processing combined with the experience of Novozymes will enable a significant reduction in the cost of enzymes for the production of cellulosic ethanol.

Ocimum ranks fourth on Deloitte's list

Ocimum Biosolutions, an integrated genomics company in India, has announced that it ranked 42nd on the Deloitte Technology Fast 500 Asia Pacific 2009, a ranking of the 500 fastest growing technology companies in Asia Pacific. The rankings were based on the percentage revenue growth over three years. In addition to ranking on Deloitte's Technology Fast 500, Ocimum ranked fourth on the Technology Fast 50 India Program, which is a ranking of the 50 fastest growing technology firms in India.

Anuradha Acharya, CEO, Ocimum Biosolutions, said, "We have always let customers' needs drive our priorities. As the pharma and biotech industry evolves, the need for a global genomics infrastructure is desired." Earlier this year the INC magazine listed Ocimum as one the fastest growing companies in North America.

Bioseed, KeyGene sign deal for hybrid seeds

Bioseed Research India, a hybrid seed development company, has signed a strategic partnership agreement to collaborate with KeyGene. The aim of this long term partnership is to accelerate the development of new and innovative crop varieties for India and South-East Asia. KeyGene is a research company based in the Netherlands and global leader in molecular breeding technology.

Arjen van Tunen, CEO, KeyGene, said that the company is proud of this first strategic agreement in India which fits well in our long-term strategy to partner with breeding companies in Europe, the US and Asia. This partnership will be the basis to set up strategic co-development programs in trait development which will add tremendous economic value for farmers in Bioseed’s new hybrid seed products.

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