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  • Pakistan seeks to learn from Indian genomics firm

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[MUSCAT] Pakistan is taking a tentative step to boost its scientific collaboration with India by allowing a team of healthcare researchers to study the work of a prominent Indian genomics company.

Given the tensions between the two nations, it is one of the first times that the Pakistan government has officially asked to look at how an Indian organisation conducts its medical research. The countries’ health officials already know each other; Pakistan’s officials have, for example, been to India to see how the country tackles issues such as HIV/AIDS.

Ejaz Rahim, the leading civil servant in Pakistan's health ministry, said at a World Health Organisation (WHO) conference in Muscat last week that he was keen to learn more about Shantha Biotech, a company based in Hyderabad, India, which specialises in vaccine research and development.

He saw a presentation about the company, whose name means 'peace', at the conference. Later, staff from the University of Toronto who jointly organised the conference with the WHO arranged for him to meet the company's founder, Khalil Ahmed.

The two have agreed to set up a further meeting between Shantha and Pakistan's National Institutes of Health. Rahim said he was more interested in replicating Shantha's "spirit of entrepreneurship, leadership and vision" than in transferring specific technologies.

"I want to promote this spirit in our own country," he said. Shantha recently won a contract to provide its recombinant DNA Hepatitis B vaccine to the United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF).

Ahmed said he had no problems with helping Pakistan's government. "If biotech can help to unite people, then why not?" he asked. "Given the political situation, the scientific community can and should open the doors of friendship and cooperation."

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