The alignment of a vast pool of scientific talent, a world-class information technology industry, and a vibrant generic pharmaceutical sector are positioning India to emerge as a significant spot on the global biotech map.

India is home to the largest number of English-speaking scientists outside the U.S. and in the U.S. Indians are well-represented on the boards of startup high tech companies and in academic research laboratories. India's success in IT - the south Asian country grew its computer software and services industry from zero to more than $7 billion in exports over the last decade - may lend credibility to its biotech aspirations, as do the strong business and cultural connections between the subcontinent and Silicon Valley.

But building biotech companies is far more complex. And to achieve its potential in biotech, India will have to overcome some significant barriers, including a confused regulatory environment, uncertainties about intellectual property protection and the slow pace of integration between academic and commercial science.

Hitting the radar

The involvement of Indian companies and researchers in two of the year's biggest biotech public policy stories, bioterrorism and stem cells, provides signs that the gaps between university lab and commercial markets are being bridged. It also illustrates the range of biomedical activity underway in India. When U.S. Sen. Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) began his campaign to increase supplies of Bayer AG's Cipro ciprofloxacin antibiotic, his staff contacted Ranbaxy Laboratories Ltd. in New Delhi, one of several Indian companies that have received tentative FDA approval to market generic ciprofloxacin as soon as Bayer's patent expires.

In addition, researchers at the Center for Biotechnology at Jawaharlal Nehru University in New Delhi announced in late October that they have been working for four years on a recombinant anthrax vaccine, have completed preclinical studies and soon would start Phase I trials in collaboration with Panacea Biotech Ltd. (New Delhi).

In the stem cell arena, Reliance Life Sciences (Mumbai), a recently formed division of one of India's largest industrial conglomerates, and the National Center for Biological Sciences (Bangalore) are among 11 institutions in five countries named by NIH as sources of embryonic stem cells that can be used in U.S. government funded research.