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Global partnerships for accessible science

When international agencies look at forging collaborations with national organisations to develop scientific and innovative products, what are the top criteria they are looking for?

Experts at an international meet emphasising the importance of global research and development partnerships said they look for things like subject matter expertise, an innovative and interdisciplinary approach and, most importantly, awareness of national regulatory processes.

The second foundation day of India's Biotechnology Industry Research Assistance Council (BIRAC) in March 2014 also saw nearly 300 scientists and science administrators from industry, academia, public and private sectors and policy makers, focus on how to make science accessible through collaborations.

The development of 'Rotavac', a low cost vaccine for rotavirus-generated diarrhoea, was hailed as a successful example of international collaboration between New Delhi based All India Institute of Medical Sciences (AIIMS), Program for Appropriate Technology in Health (PATH), National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, US Centres for Disease Control and Prevention and pharma company Bharat Biotech.

The partnership made the rotavirus vaccine accessible to people. According to India's Department of Biotechnology (DBT), the diarrhoea kills more than 450,000 children below 5 years globally every year and 100,000 in India alone.

"This was possible through focused subject matter expertise along with novelty from other fields, viewpoints and geographies. It brought together knowledge from different areas," said Chris Wilson, Director of the Global Health Discovery and Translational Sciences Programme of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.

DBT secretary Krishnaswamy VijayRaghavan said such partnerships were necessary to change the world into a more equitable one. "Product innovation is a complex path and the more hands we have, the better we are," said DBT's former secretary Maharaj Kishan Bhan.

International funding agencies prefer institutions with significant knowledge of the law of the land. Karlee Silver from health funding agency Grand Challenges Canada pointed out that such agencies partner with national institutions that are aware of the national regulatory processes. Most innovators from India were aware of regulatory processes and this has played a significant role in the success of her organisation's partnerships with Indian institutions, she said.

Product development and launch involves extensive orchestration of different partnerships at different stages, according to Suresh Jadhav, Executive Director of Serum Institute of India, one of the largest vaccine manufacturers of the world.

Ted Bianco, Director of Wellcome Trust, cited a successful partnership that gave birth to a smart cane for the visually challenged. The technology was the brainchild of scientists from Indian Institute of Technology Delhi (IITD). However, it needed scaling up. Wellcome Trust helped IITD find a Chennai-based company to transfer the technology at a notional cost of one rupee. The company tested it among 300 visually challenged people and subsequently marketed it.

Virander Chauhan, Director of New Delhi based International Centre for Genetic Engineering and Biotechnology (ICGEB) talked about the partnership model of his institute in which companies invest money to become co-owner of the technology. He said the model was behind several success stories like the malaria and the dengue vaccines of ICGEB.

Chairman of India's National Innovation Council, Sam Pitroda, pointed out that an open system where everyone could access information and have equal say in it could help the culture of innovation. "Democratisation of information can facilitate partnerships of different kinds and play a crucial role in fostering innovations," he said.


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