DBT-Wellcome Trust India Alliance celebrates 10 years of enabling biomedical research in India

Having completed their 10 years of joint partnership to boost biomedical research environment in India, the Department of Biotechnology and Wellcome Trust are now looking at creating more better options within innovation ecosystem

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New Delhi: The Department of Biotechnology and Wellcome Trust held an event in the national capital to celebrate their 10 years of their joint partnership to create a best research innovation system in India.

The President of India, Mr Ram Nath Kovind graced the event that was held on 12th November in the presence of distinguished guests, leading researchers, policy makers and students. Also present on the occasion were Dr Harsh Vardhan, Minister of Science and Technology, Prof K. VijayRaghavan, Principal Scientific Adviser to the Government Of India, Dr Jeremy Farrar, Director, Wellcome Trust and Dr Renu Swarup, Secretary, Department of Biotechnology.

The President in his speech emphasized the need for collaborations and going beyond borders to bring a definitive impact on human health and well being. He stated that science needs to be inclusive and empower the most resource constraint individual by sharing of knowledge.

Dr Harsh Vardhan congratulated the partnership and emphasized the need for the added incentive for biomedical research and creating opportunities that encouraged more clinicians to carry out research. He was happy to note that the DBT Wellcome Trust partnership was addressing this issue in a major way. More than 1000 top researchers and scientists from across India attended the function.

The Department of Biotechnology (DBT) under the Ministry of Science and Technology has been partnering with the Wellcome Trust (WT) to support a three-tier fellowship programme on biomedical research at post-doctoral level. The joint commitment of DBT and WT has been up to UK £16 million each year (£8 million each), amounting to a total of UK £160 million (INR 1296) crore over a 10-year period. The scheme was announced in 2008.

The Wellcome Trust is an independent charity funding research to improve human and animal health. Established in 1936 and with an endowment of around £15 billion, it is the largest non-governmental source of funds for biomedical research in the United Kingdom.

The programme is being delivered by a Special Purpose Vehicle (SPV), a public trust registered as the DBT/Wellcome Trust India Alliance. The Trust receives equal contribution from both DBT and WT for the running the fellowship grant scheme.

Fellowships are available across the full spectrum of biomedical research (human and veterinary) – from fundamental molecular and cellular studies through to clinical and public health research. Research projects can be based in the laboratory, the clinic or the field and may involve experimental, theoretical approaches as well as translational approaches.

The collaboration is first DBT collaboration with a non-governmental philanthropic organization outside of India. It is the first international co-funded fellowship grants for scientists working in India. The fellowship is first to be open to people of any nationality to work in India and first institutionalised re-entry post-doctoral fellowships in biomedical research grants in India

Over the period of 10 years 320 fellowships have been granted to research fellows from across the world to work in India. Few interesting trends:

  • 320 recommended awards at 93 institutions across 34 Indian cities

  • 32.2% awardees are from overseas, 67.8% from India: Facilitating “Brain Gain”.

  • ~20% of awards are made to universities.

  • 4 awardees from non-Indian nationality – Canada, Germany, Ghana, USA.

  • More than 550 publications by March 2018.

  • 33% of India Alliance Fellows are women. India Alliance provides an option to its Fellows to seek a one-year full cost extension of fellowship following a maternity break.

  • 24% of the awards made to new (<10 years old) institutions.

  • More than 900 PhDs, postdoctoral scientists, undergraduates and research technicians trained in the laboratories of India Alliance Fellows.

  • ~2500 researchers trained in Science Communication workshops.

The aim of setting up the fellowship jointly with Wellcome Trust was to create a system comparable to the best in the world, taking India on the path of becoming a leader in key areas of life sciences and biomedical research. This merit based grant fellowship allows India to harness young talent in India and prevent their migration to the developed countries by providing opportunities comparable to the best in the world. The partnership has succeeded in achieving its target.

DBT and the Wellcome Trust have agreed to extend their ongoing partnership beyond its initial 10-year term (2008-09 to 2018-19) into a new 5-year phase (2019-20 to 2023-24). Following new initiatives are planned to fill important gaps of scientific excellence in India in the next phase of the India Alliance:

  • Set up mechanisms to strengthen veterinary research and ‘One Health’ through India Alliance Fellowships.

  • Develop mechanisms to engage with Universities around the country to better equip researchers there to apply and receive competitive funding for their research.

  • Administer Collaborative Research Grants that aim to solve important scientific problems through an interdisciplinary approach.

  • Fund Clinical Research Centres (CRCs) will be virtual centres that are established around big biomedical research problems

  • Funds for foreign collaborators working on India focus themes

  • Devise mechanisms, in collaboration with DBT, for sustained support to Indian scientists who return from overseas to avail India Alliance Fellowships.

(Source: Press release by Department of Biotechnology)