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[AHMEDABAD] India's ambitions to emerge as a pharmaceutical giant could be thwarted if it does not address its lack of trained workforce and improve the quality of related courses, drug researchers warn.

Bansi Lal, head of the privately funded Nicholas Piramal Research Centre, warned delegates at the 92nd Indian Science Congress in Ahmedabad yesterday (4 January) that despite India’s potential for — and confidence in — emerging as a hub for pharmaceutical research and development, it lacks trained personnel.

"It is a myth that we have abundance of manpower," said Lal. "We do not have the right quality of experts."

Lal said India should introduce pharmacology at an earlier stage in education and also set up regional drug research centres. Currently, the earliest courses in pharmacology are offered at the undergraduate level.

Researching and developing new drugs relies on several areas of specialisation including: medicinal chemistry, molecular modelling, and the study of complex chemical structures. Analytical techniques such as mass spectroscopy and nuclear magnetic resonance are also important.

Lal said India is "reasonably strong" in chemistry but its performance in identifying new lead molecules for drugs is a concern. India's other weak points include poor facilities for testing drugs on animals, and not having enough manufacturers of scientific instruments.


Chittar Mal Gupta, director of the public sector Central Drug Research Institute (CDRI) in Lucknow, agrees that India faces a shortage of skilled personnel for research and development of new drugs.

Gupta told SciDev.Net that unlike in the West, where most pharmaceutical research is in the private sector, in India it is mostly done in government-owned laboratories, which do not operate with the speed essential for drug development and delivery.

India is, however, changing its strategy and publicly-funded laboratories like CDRI now link up with the Indian private sector at an early stage to accelerate drug development and trials soon after potential new drug molecules are discovered, says Gupta.

The poor quality of training appears not to be confined to pharmacology. According to Nirmal Kumar Ganguly, president of the Indian Science Congress, the "crumbling" state of India's medical education system could undermine the country’s impressive strides in health technology.


Ganguly, who also heads the Indian Council of Medical Research, told delegates in Ahmedabad that a critical review of the teaching methods on medical courses is needed.

Indian medical colleges "are in shambles", warned Ganguly, adding that only five papers from the country's 75 medical colleges were published in international peer-reviewed journals in the past five years. Indian medical graduates have "reasonably good" knowledge of medical science but are often found lacking in clinical research experience, he observed.


The decline in medical education is symptomatic of a general deterioration of standards in Indian universities, that has been repeatedly highlighted by senior Indian scientists and, recently, by the prime minister, Manmohan Singh (see Commitment to science stressed by Indian PM).

"We need to get rid of the illusion that we are the third largest manpower country and concentrate more on the quality," Raghunath Mashelkar, director general of the Council of Scientific and Industrial Research told delegates at the congress.