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Friday, Jan 04, 2002

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`Pan-Asian' biotech pact urged

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`The public sector will have a central role in the biotech field because biology is not ideal for a business-centric or purely commercial exercise with short-term goals. Resource management in the public domain and administrators with scientific training will be key areas.'

Mr Edison Liu, Executive Director, Genome Institute, Singapore.


A `PAN-ASIAN' model enabling collaboration in biotechnology could help developing countries exploit its potential, said Dr Edison T. Liu, Executive Director, Genome Institute of Singapore.

Such a mechanism, while not being exclusive or prescriptive, will enable the countries in the region to pool their resources together to hasten progress. Being knowledge-based, biotechnology offers developing countries an opportunity to take the lead in development that eluded them in the process of industrialisation, he said.

The emergence of knowledge-based industries has changed the whole precept of how business is conducted. While in manufacturing, capital and infrastructure are primary requirements, in biotechnology human resources hold the key. The infrastructure needs are different with the human mind being the resource. Here the Asian countries have a unique advantage, and can score over the developed countries, said Dr Liu.

Under the circumstances, intellectual property rights and WTO issues are going to be paramount. Countries in the region will have to create guidelines in consonance with international guidelines instead of letting the developed countries alone lay down the rules, he said. Larger markets are the key to recovering costs, and even China and India cannot support the costs by themselves, he said.

Dr Liu was addressing a press conference here today on the occasion of the international biotechnology conference organised by the US-based Cornell University and Sathguru Management Consultants, Hyderabad. During the visit, Dr Liu will also hold discussions with the Tamil Nadu Government on possible areas of collaboration in biotechnology.

Dr Liu said that the nature of collaboration was changing from being an education-based or an academic exercise to application-oriented efforts. Countries will have to embark on projects that all agree to fund and share the benefits. Each will thus have to identify its priorities and then look at opportunities for teaming up. For example, the rice genome project or projects relating to mapping the gene diversity. Data will have to be made available in the public domain for the common good, he said.

The public sector will have a central role here because biology is not ideal for a business-centric or purely commercial exercise with short-term goals, he said. Projects invariably demand long gestation periods, and strategies will have to be framed with long-term goals. Such a model for collaboration will have to take the needs of the region into account and will necessarily depend on close interaction with the Government. Resource management in the public domain and administrators with scientific training will be key areas, he said.

While private sector funding in research in the public domain will also be needed, this alone cannot be the source of funding. Private sector goals are invariably oriented towards the short term. Therefore, the industry could act as a conduit for commercialisation of concepts. It is the industry that can provide the jobs. Therefore, to that extent the strategy should also be `pro-business', he said.

For commercialisation of concepts, the academicians are not ideally suited, and the industry is vitally important for employment generation also, Dr Liu said.

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