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Wednesday, Nov 24, 2004

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Novartis research centre: It's a toss-up between India, China

P.T. Jyothi Datta

Dr Daniel Vasella, Chairman & CEO, Novartis at a press conference in Mumbai on Tuesday. — Paul Noronha

Mumbai , Nov. 23

THE Chinese Dragon is set to give India some serious competition in terms of being an attractive Asian location for Swiss pharma major Novartis's third research centre.

"Do we want an Asian research centre? Yes. Do you (India) have a chance? Absolutely. But boy, there is no assuring it will be in India!" quipped Dr Daniel Vasella, Chairman and Chief Executive Officer of Novartis, in response to a query on whether the company had decided on a location for its proposed research centre.

Novartis has its existing research centres in Europe and the US and Dr Vasella said that China was active in research, with skilled people returning from developed markets to work in China. "China is getting interesting. There is increasing respect for Intellectual Property Rights (IPR), though legal implementation is not there in a consistent way," he said.

And though India is doing some development work for the global parent, he indicated that patent protection holds the key to increased investment and activity in India. "We will wait and see how it is implemented," he said.

Elaborating on what factors would be crucial in swinging Novartis's decision in favour of any one location, he listed: "Qualified people, the way the Government treats us, IPR and labour costs." Skills, he emphasised, played an important role in such decisions.

Dr Vasella's visit to India is the culmination of a string of visits to the country this year by Novartis's top-brass. And all visits sought collaboration with local pharma companies. Significantly though, Dr Vasella has made as many, if not more, visits to China: "two times in a year, in fact in two weeks", he said.

Novartis has existing tie-ups with Indian companies including Nicholas Piramal, Torrent, Dr Reddy's Laboratories and Biocon, he said.

On future prospects for Novartis, he said, the company would have another record year, despite the uncertainties that are inherent to the pharma industry.

Meanwhile, Novartis's generic drugs company, Sandoz, would seek to be more global in its operations, he said. "Sandoz will continue to look for acquisition candidates around the world," he added.

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