• 5 February 2010
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Israel to share scientific expertise with India
Benjamin (Fuad) Ben- Eliezer, Israeli Minister of Industry, Trade and Labor while addressing a meeting organized by the Federation of Indian Chambers of Commerce and Industry (FICCI) in New Delhi on January 11, 2010, invited Indian companies to forge partnerships with Israeli companies in the fields of agriculture, IT and homeland security. In addition, he urged Indian companies to take advantage of Israel’s global leadership in scientific and medical research, biotechnology, and agrotechnology.

Sumanta Chaudhuri, joint secretary, Department of Commerce, Government of India, said that India has an immense capacity to absorb new technology and it provides a larger market base than China for collaboration in areas of pharma and life sciences of R&Ds.

KK Bajoria, chairman of India-Israel Joint Business Council and chairman of Willard India, pointed out that India can be an investment destination for Israel besides offering an export base for Israeli companies in India for items like diamonds, automobiles, chemicals, textiles, recombinant, pharma products and IT.
“India provides vast scope for investment in agri business in the areas of creating an entire agri cold chain, new agricultural marketing infrastructure, warehouses, refrigerated transport systems, agri research and development, quality extension services, weather and crop insurance, water management, horticulture and floriculture, food processing and product development for global markets,” Bajoria added.

“Bilateral trade between Israel and India has increased consistently from $200 million (Rs 923 crore) in 2001 to $1.4 billion (Rs 64,661 crore) in 2008. To further strengthen bilateral trade and industrial and technological cooperation between two countries, the Israeli Ministry of Industry and Trade will open its third office in India by end of this year and will assist Israeli companies that wish to operate in the Indian market,” added the Israeli Minister.

Maharashtra tops H1N1 casualty figure
Although the Swine flu scare is no more visible in media, the tremor has not come to the halt. The scare created by H1N1 virus, gave it a celebrity status among all the dreaded viruses till date. Many companies are in the race of developing an indigenous vaccine in India by isolating the strains specific to Indian population.

According to a report titled ‘Consolidated status of influenza A H1N1’ issued by the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare on January 4, 2010, the samples from 114,079 persons have been tested for influenza A H1N1 in government laboratories and out of which 26,309 (23 percent) cases were confirmed as positive. The report also puts the total number of lab confirmed death cases as 989 and the least affected states being Northeastern states of Mizoram and Assam with one death case each. Also the states with lowest deaths include Goa (5), Chattisgarh (2), and Jammu & Kashmir (2). The states/ union territories with zero reported deaths include West Bengal, Jharkhand, Bihar, Nagaland, Daman & Diu and Andaman & Nicobar island.

Among all the states and union territories, Maharashtra has the highest number of deaths reported at 275, followed by Rajasthan at 151, and Karnataka at 133. About 77 percent of the cases were reported from major cities with New Delhi at 3,701 (24 percent), Pune at 1,575 (10 percent), Bangalore 1,235 (eight percent).

Also, the age-sex pattern of lab confirmed cases put the males in most affected category in all age groups with 3,577 in 5-19 age group, 3,217 in 20-39 age group, 874 in 40-58 age group and 157 in plus 60 age group. The female population is slightly lesser affected with 2,445 in 5-19 age group, 1,975 in 20-39 age group, 616 in 40-59 age group and 104 in plus 60 age group.

China, the first country to commercialize GM rice
China has approved a strain of genetically engineered rice, making it the first country in the world to produce biotech rice on a commercial scale. The Biosafety Committee under the Chinese Ministry of Agriculture issued biosafety certificates to pest-resistant Bt rice in December 2009. But, the strains still need to undergo registration and production trials before commercial production can begin in restricted areas, which may take 2-3 years.

Actually, China is not the first country to approve biotech rice, but it may become the first country to commercialize it. North Carolina-based Bayer CropScience’s transgenic herbicide-tolerant rice was approved by the US regulatory officials in 1999, but the company never commercialized it.

According to an article published in January issue of Nature Biotechnology, the rice variety, engineered to resist pests using toxins from the bacterium bacillus thuringiensis (Bt) was developed by scientists at Huazhong Agricultural University in Wuhan, China.

China aims to raise grain production to 540 million tonnes a year by 2020, has intensified its research on genetically modified organisms (GMOs), with the funding of $3.5 billion (Rs 161,676 crore) for rice, corn and wheat. The rice and corn strains are China’s first GMO grains approved for commercial production, although it already permits GMO papaya, cotton and tomatoes.

The approval of the locally-developed rice, as well as China’s first GMO corn, shifts the global balance of power in food trade and could prompt other countries to follow suit. It will also enable China, the world’s top producer and consumer of rice, to grow more of its staple food amid shrinking land and water resources.

Currently, India and Iran are also developing Bt rice and the Philippines is expected to approve the IRRI-developed vitamin A-enriched GM Golden Rice by late 2011 or early 2012. Also, the markets play a crucial role of adopting Bt or any other technology to boost production because if the prices remain high, then the countries can no longer ignore these technologies.

PM, consumer groups oppose India’s Bt brinjal
India’s emerging anti-GM (genetically modified) product coalition has got a shot in the arm with the Prime Minister, Dr Manmohan Singh raising some questions over the ‘safety concerns’ related to GM food crops on January 3, 2010.

The PM’s remarks have come on a day when a 69-member coalition of consumer groups sent a request to the Minister of State for Environment, Jairam Ramesh, whose ministry has to take the final call on the release of India’s first GM food crop, a Bt brinjal variety from Mahyco-Monsanto, which got a regulatory approval on October 14, 2009. The final notification of its commercial release is pending with the government.

Inaugurating the 97th Indian Science Congress session in Thiruvanathapuram last month, the Prime Minister said, “The technology of genetic modification is also being extended to food crops though this raises legitimate questions of safety. These must be given full weightage, with appropriate regulatory control based on strictly scientific criteria.”

Dr Singh’s remarks, even as the biotech regulator, Genetic Engineering Approval Committee (GEAC), in the ministry of environment, has approved the release of Bt brinjal, has raised concerns in the industry. By raising questions on the safety aspects of GM foods, the Prime Minister appears to support the views of anti-GM opponents that the regulator may have been lax in giving biosafety clearance to Bt brinjal.

The latest anti-GM salvo came from the Consumer Coordination Council (CCC), set up in 1993, with 69 nationwide consumer groups as members. The CCC, after a meeting in Rajkot, Gujarat on December 19-20, 2009, has asked the government to impose a moratorium on the introduction of Bt brinjal till some questions over its safety are addressed to by the developers.

Bharat Biotech begins HN-VAC clinical trials
Bharat Biotech has commenced phase I clinical evaluation of HN-VAC, its cell culture-based H1N1 vaccine candidate. The company has received the nod from Drugs Controller General of India (DCGI) to conduct the phase I clinical trials.

This vaccine under development will boost immunity against the new H1N1 influenza strains, and help protect public health as the pandemic evolves. Bharat Biotech is the first company in India to develop, a cell culture-based vaccine candidate for influenza, which can serve as a platform technology for both pandemic and seasonal flu vaccines.

Bharat Biotech has invested Rs 70 crore for product development, manufacturing facilities and R&D facilities for this cell culture-based H1N1 vaccine. The company has received the H1N1 vaccine strains from WHO/CDC centers.

Biocon signs MoU with BiotechCorp
Indian biotech company Biocon has signed a memorandum of understanding (MoU) with Malaysia’s Biotechnology Corporation (BiotechCorp) to explore collaboration and potential investment in Malaysia’s biotechnology industry.

Biocon is in talks with BiotechCorp to manufacture biopharmaceutical products and formulation, within Malaysia’s Nusajaya, Iskandar Malaysia, called the Bio-XCell Ecosystem. Biocon is also developing biotechnology infrastructure in the Bio-XCell Ecosystem Project.

The collaboration gives Biocon a conducive ecosystem to further its biopharmaceutical activities and will also enable the transfer of knowledge to Malaysia’s human capital, create employment and knowledge workers, and directly benefit the growth of similar local industry.

Ranbaxy acquires Biovel to enter vaccines Biz
Ranbaxy Laboratories has entered the vaccine business with the acquisition of Bangalore-based vaccines developer, Biovel Life Sciences. With this deal, Ranbaxy gets hold of product rights and a manufacturing facility from Biovel.

The proposed transaction will give Ranbaxy access to all of Biovel’s products, pipeline, IP, know-how, and manufacturing facility, all located in Bangalore.
The products that are part of the transaction include Typhoid Vi antigen and Hib conjugate vaccines, for which, Biovel has received regulatory approval for India; as well as Biovel’s development pipeline, comprising a range of vaccines, biotherapeutics and other products.

Although the price of the acquisition was not mentioned, it is believed the transaction is worth Rs 50 crore.

Mahyco gets plant variety certificates
Mahyco, one of the leading seed companies in India, had developed and commercialized hybrids in wheat for the first time in India. Mahyco has been awarded the registration certificates under Plant Varieties and Farmers’ Rights (PPV&FR) Act for the two novel wheat varieties. With this achievement, the company also holds the credit of registering the first novel variety in India.

Indian Parliament enacted PPV&FR under the TRIPS agreement for intellectual property rights for plants. PPV&FR rules were notified in September 2003 and the authority was established in November 2005.

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