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Cornell varsity to help design biotech park

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CHENNAI, June 30

TICEL Bio Park Ltd, which is putting up a biotech park in Chennai, hopes to finalise the design for the park in July in consultation with the Cornell University, which is the technical collaborator for the project, and thereafter invite bids for beginning construction.

TICEL Bio Park Ltd, which is the company floated by the Tamil Nadu Industrial Development Corporation (TIDCO) for executing the Rs 62.50-crore project, hopes to make the park operational in the second half of 2003, TIDCO officials and Cornell University representatives told a press conference here.

A team comprising officials and the architect is scheduled to visit the Cornell University in the US to discuss the design of the park with the university's architect.

The Chennai-based firm of C.R. Narayana Rao & Co has been selected as the architect for the park after a competitive bidding process. Tying up with the Cornell University's architect is needed to standardise the designs and later to facilitate US FDA approval.

Mr Madhavan Nambiar, TIDCO's Chairman and Managing Director, said that TIDCO had contributed Rs 9 crore as equity while the Tamil Nadu Government had given Rs 20 crore as subordinated debt towards the cost of the land. The remaining Rs 33 crore had been tied up as loans from State Bank of India and the Exim Bank.

However, it is understood that the Technology Development Board of the Government of India will be approached for funding, in the form of equity to acquire equipment, while some banks and institutions have also expressed a desire participate in the equity, thus bringing down TIDCO's exposure in the venture.

According to Dr K.V. Raman, Professor, Department of Plant Breeding, College of Agriculture and Life Sciences, Cornell University, FDA compliance covers aspects like air quality and safety standards, knowledge for which does not exist in India. That is why the Indian architect will be liasing with Cornell University's architect, especially since the university is embarking on a $500-million new life sciences facility. International expertise is critical to ensure conformity with bio-safety requirements.

Asked what areas of biotechnology would be addressed at the Chennai facility, Mr K. Vijayaraghavan, Cornell's representative in India, said that the park would attract investments in biogenerics, therapeutics, agriculture and food processing.

The officials said that the park could network with other reputed institutions in the US to get expertise in different areas of biotechnology. Cornell University has expertise in animal, agriculture, medicinal and food biotechnology. Within Cornell, a cell had been established for entrepreneurship support, which would help shape the final business plan.

Mr Vijayaraghavan said that Cornell was working on a multi-company collaboration in bio-informatics for the proposed biotech park.

While declining to divulge the name of the consortium, he said this would generate employment opportunities for biotechnology graduates here.

The biotech park would have about 1.20 lakh sq.ft. common tenancy area which would include wet labs and customised laboratories, apart from an incubator and germ plasm centre and greenhouse facility.

It would initially attract about 30-35 units and the park, which would come up on five acres of land, could always be expanded as and when the need arose, said Mr K.R. Viswanathan, Managing Director, TICEL Bio Park Ltd.

Asked what would be Tamil Nadu's USP in attracting investments at the biotech park, especially since Karnataka and Andhra Pradesh, had also embarked on similar ventures, Mr Madhavan Nambiar said that having Cornell as the technical collaborator and providing mentor support was the greatest advantage.

The TICEL Park would have the latest features, incorporating designs and facilities from the new facility being put up in Cornell. A strong technical collaborator was essential to attract strong anchor tenants, he said.

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