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Obama Stem Cell Policy Will Boost India R&D

MUMBAI: The pro-embryonic stem cell policy of the U.S. President Barack Obama is likely to result in Indian research organizations attracting the interest of foreign research firms for collaboration in the field, according to people involved in such research. "India is a cheaper alternative for research and clinical trials. The country is not too far behind the U.S. in terms of practical aspects of stem cells. Many companies are eyeing India because of its huge population base and genetic versatility," said Karan Goel, founder and chairman of Stem Cell Global Foundation, a welfare organization that is working to improve scientific understanding in stem cell field and prevention of unethical and unapproved therapies. According to a report by the Stem Cell Research Forum of India (SCRFI), the industry is expected to grow to $540 million by 2010, with a growth rate of 15%. India and China, analysts say, are poised to play a key role in the scientific, clinical and commercial development of stem cell research. Pharmaceutical companies can already smell future growth from embryonic stem cell research and are looking at partnering state-run research institutes to develop new drugs. Pfizer, for instance, recently signed an agreement with U.S.-based Wisconsin Alumni Research Foundation for using human embryonic stem cells for development of new drug therapies. Such research will allow Pfizer scientists to determine how new medicines may be able to improve the way stem cells regenerate damaged tissues. "It's important to develop the public-private partnership in the field of stem cell research and therapy, as it has a direct impact on the translation of technology. You may see many such partnerships in future," said Vishwa Mohan Katoch, the director general of Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR), and secretary to the government of India's department of health research. He added that ICMR had planned to develop and initiate collaborative activities with U.S. institutions for which proposals have been received. In fact, work is already under way in the field of embryonic stem cell research. "There are several laboratories that are researching stem cells. A lot of this is tailored to address diseases that are important in the local context and this stimulates innovation," said Maneesha Inamdar, associate professor for vascular biology laboratory and stem cell laboratory at the Jawaharlal Nehru Centre for Advanced Scientific Research (JNCASR). There are skeptical voices, though. There would be many more such collaborations and partnerships on a global scale though this is unlikely to benefit India greatly, said D Balasubramanian, director of research at LV Prasad Eye Institute, which utilizes stem cells to regenerate the cornea. "Most of the stem cell work in the country concentrates not on embryonic stem cells but adult stem cells. Things could look up for Indian companies given that the guidelines for researchers and clinicians are in place," he added.

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