India releases new biotechnology strategy

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India has launched a national biotechnology development strategy focusing on biotechnology’s potential to provide long-term benefits for agriculture, health and the environment.

The strategy, issued by science minister Kapil Sibal this week (13 November), includes a target for the biotechnology industry to generate US$7 billion by 2012, and the revamping of biotechnology education programmes to create global centres of educational and research excellence.

To achieve this target, Sibal said the country will boost funds for biotechnology by five-fold over the next five years, from 14,500 million Indian rupees (US$362 million) during 2002–2007 to 65,000 million Indian rupees (US$1.6 billion) by 2012.

He said at the press briefing for the strategy that the funds will be used to "beef up" India’s biotechnology infrastructure.

"We need a new vision. The next big challenges are in health, agriculture and environment, which the nation must invest in seriously," Sibal told reporters.

In a major new initiative, the strategy will reserve up to 30 per cent of Department of Biotechnology’s (DBT’s) budget for public-private partnerships and the launch of a biotechnology industry partnership programme for advanced technologies.

The strategy aims to improve biotechnology education throughout the country by identifying highly-reputed colleges in around 20 smaller universities and supporting them through teacher training programmes.

Existing university science departments will be upgraded, and departments working on different disciplines will be streamlined to create globally competitive centres of education and research.

A UNESCO regional centre for science, education and innovation in biotechnology will be set up at Faridabad, near Delhi in northern India. The centre will provide global standard, industry-oriented training for physicians, biologists and engineers.

India is also introducing a cost-sharing scheme that allows industry to retain intellectual property. The DBT has drafted two bills to be taken to the Indian Parliament in 2008, one of which relates to protection, utilisation and regulation of intellectual property.