India's Bioinformatics Industry: An Engine for Global Growth

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Bioinformatics is one of the fastest-expanding fields in India's biotechnology sector today. There are over 200 companies in Bangalore, Hyderabad, Pune, Chennai, and Delhi that are in some way involved in bioinformatics. Large IT organizations such as Intel, IBM, and Wipro are also getting into this sector in India. Just as important, over 300 college-level institutes across India now offer degrees in biotechnology, bioinformatics, and biological sciences. These facilities are educating millions of students annually. This educational base is creating a solid future for India's bioinformatics industry.

Much of this growth is because of the linkages between IT and biotechnology. India's software engineers are established around the globe. This breadth of expertise is, in turn, creating an engine for global biopharmaceutical growth. In fact, because of India's global presence in bioinformatics, Indian scientists and bioinformatics professionals are in high demand.

Today, the country's talented software engineers are establishing themselves as more than just inexpensive. As a result, salary differentials today are shrinking quickly. Engineers in India today command salaries around half those in the US, compared with as little as one fourth in 2001, according to John Morrow, PhD, president of Newport Biotech (Newport, KY), and a contributing editor to the recent joint BioPlan Associates and Society for Industrial Microbiology publication, Advances in Biopharmaceutical Technology in India.1 Thus, as India heads toward salary parity with the West, the country's bioinformatics sector is expected to provide innovative technology advantages, not just cost advantages. Morrow notes, "Innovation in bioinformatics is driving internal demands, and R&D in India will ultimately produce technologies that are unavailable in the EU and US."

India's government recognizes the opportunities and is investing heavily. India's Department of Biotechnology, for example, has supported improvements in intellectual property protection. The government also supports the industry through financial incentives, tax benefits, and loans for R&D activities to both the public and private sectors. Manju Sharma, PhD, former director of the Department of Biotechnology, says that the biotech industry could become the "single largest sector for employment of skilled human resources in the years to come."1

BIOINFORMATICS NETWORK

India was one of the first countries in the world to establish a nationwide bioinformatics network. The Department of Biotechnology (DBT) initiated a program on bioinformatics in 1986. The Biotechnology Information System Network (BTIS), a division of DBT, now connects 57 key research centers, covering the entire country. More than 100 databases for biotechnology have been developed. Two databases, namely one that covers data regarding the coconut genome and another that contains the complete genome of the white spota syndrome of shrimp, have been released for public use. In addition, several major international databases with applications for genomics and proteomics have been established under the National Jai Vigyan Mission.

BTIS also has decided to establish five advanced research and training centers. These Centers of Excellence (COE) in Bioinformatics undertake advanced research in bioinformatics, provide PhD and postdoctoral training, develop new solutions to support the Indian Bioinformatics industry and its academic institutions in India, help in solving complex biological problems, and retain required high-end manpower.

INDIA'S ADVANTAGES

The core R&D strength in Indian biotechnology is its relatively well-educated and trained labor force, with a strong base of English-speaking scientists who are well versed in mathematics, physics, and chemistry. Thus, the country has the scientific skills that encompass capabilities for handling all aspects of biological information acquisition, processing, analysis, and interpretation.

India's well-known software skills are, of course, another key advantage in global bioinformatics. For example, notes Nanda Kumar, PhD, an attorney at Reed Smith LLP (Philadelphia, PA), India's professionals have the capabilities to build tools such as biochips (particularly biochips patented outside India). Lack of government interference is another advantage. "There is freedom to operate in India and perform data analysis related to genomic sequencing, functional genomics, and proteomics fields," says Kumar. "These advantages are fueling the outsourcing of bioinformatics services to India."

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