When in mid-November the
8th BioSpectrum Awards Jury decided to give the Product of the Year
Award to the cry1C bt gene developed by Metahelix Life Sciences, the
industry was actually recognizing the tireless efforts of a band of
scientists-turned-entrepreneurs. Ten years ago, they left their cushy
jobs in top seed companies and decided to develop a truly Indian
transgenic product to compete with the world’s best.
For nearly a decade, helped by angel investors, the Metahelix team
pursued their dream, despite many ups and downs, a complex and long
winding regulatory path. BioSpectrum has been chronicling the
remarkable strides made by Dr K K Narayanan and his team all these
years. Even when I met him to profile the product in late November, Dr
Narayanan was clear that Metahelix will take a cautious approach with
the product and spend a few years to earn the Indian farmers’ goodwill
and product endorsement.
At the same time, Dr Narayanan was fully confident about the gene and
was steadfast in his belief that the benefits of this efficient
technology should reach farmers around the world. And he had confided
that the only way that can happen will be with the support of strategic
investors who have deep pockets. He was already preparing the ground
for that. Two weeks later, it happened. The TATA group recognized the
importance of Metahelix and has given the company the requisite backing
and financial muscle by picking up a majority stake through Rallis
India, the group’s agriculture arm.
Metahelix has got an infusion of nearly $20 million when the angel
investors exited through the Rallis arrangement. These funds will help
Metahelix to prepare for the initial forays into the national market
and take the right steps to seek regulatory approvals in the major
cotton growing countries. The gene will be inserted in cotton hybrids
initially and later into a variety of vegetable crops and cereals. More
than that, the company can now count on the huge financial strengths of
the TATA Group to fulfill its ambition to put an Indian gene in crops
around the world.
Biocon’s Pfizer deal and Metahelix-Rallis arrangement are giving way to
a new business trend in the small but growing Indian biotech industry.
Within a decade of the emergence of this industry, despite the small
revenue size, the companies are able to think globally and clearly aim
to put India-made products in global markets. Very few India-made
products have succeeded in doing so on their own terms. The Metahelix
way will have many more followers in the industry in the coming decade.
You have all got used to the familiar pages of BioSpectrum for the last
five years. Change is the only constant in all walks of life.
BioSpectrum too has undergone some changes. The new look BioSpectrum
you hold in your hands is the result of a year-long effort by the
magazine’s design and editorial team, with inputs from external
experts, to give it a contemporary look and feel. We have chosen a
design that will straddle the multiple delivery formats of print,
digital and online seamlessly, while preserving the essential character
of the trusted biotech magazine. I hope you all enjoy the new design.
Do let us know what you think of the change. Wish you all a very Happy
and Happening New Year 2011.