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[NEW DELHI] India has unveiled a draft strategy for developing biotechnology over the next decade, with a special focus on easing regulatory mechanisms and increasing biology education and training.

The strategy could help India's biotechnology sector generate revenues of up to US$5 billion annually and create one million jobs by 2010, says Department of Biotechnology secretary Maharaj Bhan.

Released on the department's website yesterday (31 March) by science minister Kapil Sibal, the draft is open for public comments for six weeks, after which time it will be finalised.

A key feature of the draft strategy is the proposal to set up an autonomous National Biotechnology Regulatory Authority to approve biotechnology products — until now, a task handled by the Genetic Engineering Approval Committee of the Ministry of Environment and Forests.

Bhan says the new regulatory authority would have separate divisions devoted to three areas: agricultural products and transgenic crops; pharmaceuticals and industrial products; and transgenic food, feed and animal aquaculture.

The idea follows recommendations by two expert panels on agricultural and pharmaceutical biotechnology products, headed respectively by India's crop expert M. S. Swaminathan and by Raghunath Mashelkar, director general of the Council of Scientific and Industrial Research (see Indian panel urges shake-up of GM approval).

The strategy highlights the need to streamline guidelines and procedures for approving genetically engineered pharmaceutical products, which it says is currently a complex process involving multiple ministries and regulators that lack coordination.

Besides clarifying regulatory mechanisms, there would be a focus on developing human resources — students specialising in biotechnology, researchers, teachers of biotechnology courses and technicians.

The government will set up a national task force on education and training to formulate model undergraduate and postgraduate courses in life sciences, create special scholarships, increase the number of PhD fellowships from 50 to 200, and increase the exposure of students to industry and national institutes, Bhan says.

Other action points include setting up new centres of excellence in food biotechnology, herbal medicine, molecular medicine, biomaterials and devices, and bioinformatics. 

Link to the draft biotechnology strategy

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