Rewind 2018: An action packed year for the DBT!

The Department of Biotechnology (DBT) initiated many new programmes, ranging from collaboration to scaling up, aimed at boosting industry and academic research. The top policymaking agency has been at the forefront of promoting the growth of the sector throughout the year

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New Delhi: It was a year of new policy decisions concerning biotechnology industry and academia in India. The Department of Biotechnology under Ministry of Science and Technology that overseas the biotechnology policymaking, was involved in many key decisions by the government. A look at the policymaking and outcomes as described by the department:

♦ During the year, the union cabinet has approved “The DNA Technology (Use and Application) Regulation Bill, 2018”. The Bill has been formulated for the regulation of the use and application of Deoxyribonucleic Acid (DNA) technology with the aim to establish the identity of certain category of persons including the victims, offenders, suspects, under trials, missing persons and unknown deceased persons and provides provision for establishment of a DNA Regulatory Board (DRB).

♦ Another development was the India – UK Cancer Research Initiative launched in collaboration with Cancer Research UK (CRUK) focusing on affordability of cancer prevention and care, and the potential to make significant progress against cancer consequences. Both CRUK and the DBT will invest £5m (~47 Crores INR) each in this initiative.

♦ 15 new skill development courses for Post Graduate Certificate/Diploma were implemented with an objective to provide high quality hands on training in tools and techniques in Medical Biotechnology, Agricultural Biotechnology and Computational Biology.

♦ Indo-US collaboration on Genome Engineering/ Editing launched to provide opportunity to brightest Indian students and scientists to gain exposure and access to world class research facilities in leading U.S. institutions through students internship, overseas fellowship and visiting professorship programmes.

♦ 1st Clean Energy International Incubator has been set up under Mission Innovation. Startups from 23 participating EU countries can potentially come & incubate in India and likewise startups from this incubator can go to the partnering countries facilitating access to global opportunities.

♦ SAEN (Secondary Agriculture Entrepreneurial Network) was launched in 2018 which is led by The Punjab State Council &Technology (PSCST) and other partners, such as, National Agri Food Biotechnology Institution (NABI), Centre for Innovative and Applied Bioprocessing (CIAB) and BIRAC’s BioNEST – Panjab University (BioNEST-PU). The project aims to promote new enterprises and to support existing industry in the secondary agriculture sector.

♦ A major Mission program on Antimicrobial Resistance (AMR) was launched in October, 2018 with the vision to develop indigenous and cost-effective therapies against AMR; categorization of AMR-specific pathogen priority list of India; establishment of Bio-repository for AMR-specific pathogens; and development of rapid and cost-effective diagnostic kits to identify AMR-specific pathogens.

♦ Accelerated Translational Grant for Commercialization (ATGC) was launched to encourage technological innovation by providing funding opportunities for fundamental research that is explicitly aimed towards application development.

♦ A new regional center, BIRAC Regional Bio-innovation Centre (BRBC) was established at Venture Centre, Pune. BRBC is mandated to be a high quality national resource center for regulatory guidance to startups, training of Incubator managers, etc. and to support and promote Entrepreneurship in Life Sciences.

♦ Cattle Genomics programme was launched to improve the germplasm of Indian Cattle breeds. The aim of this programme is to identify elite animal at an early stage and also to reduce the cost and time interval of breeding programme in future.

♦ The DBT celebrated its ten year old partnership with India Alliance (collaboration with the Wellcome Trust), where they are supporting a three-tier fellowship programme on biomedical research at post-doctoral level. The President of India, Mr Ram Nath Kovind, graced the event organized at VigyanBhavan in New Delhi.

Research, academia & startups

♦ In the area of human resource development and capacity building, 15 Scientists were selected for National Bioscience Award for Career Development; 9 scientists awarded Innovative Young Biotechnologist Award; 2 scientists supported for National Women Bio-scientist (Senior, Junior) Award for Biotech Product, Process Development and Commercialization; 2 outstanding scientists awarded Distinguished Biotechnology Research Professorship Award; 75 awarded Ramalingaswamire-entry fellowship; 160 Research Associates supported; 942 JRF’s supported, 89 students were supported under Biotechnology finishing school programme.

♦ “Bharat Boston Bioscience Beginning -B 4, Phase II” for two years was launched with a provision for 16 postdoctoral students to undergo training in Harvard University. 100 young students will also be trained in emerging technologies.

♦ A facilitation cell (FIRST HUB) for start-ups and innovators at Biotechnology Industry Research Assistance Council (BIRAC) was set up.

♦ Under the Startup India initiative, the Department of Biotechnology has sanctioned a biocluster at Pune and BIRAC has supported additional 4 new Bio-incubators during 2018 through BioNEST scheme.

♦ With an aim to promote Make in India, BIRAC & KIHT (Kalam Institute of Health Technology) have collaborated to facilitate start-ups, entrepreneurs, researchers, academicians, incubation centres & SMEs in the area of Testing & Standardization of Medical Devices.

♦ BIRAC has established/supported additional 5 new Bio-incubators during 2018 through BioNEST scheme adding an additional high end incubation space taking the total space to 3,91,849 sq. ft.

Affordable health care for a Swastha Bharat

♦ DBT’s Indo-US Vaccine Action Programme (VAP) & the Vaccine Grand Challenge Programme (VGCP) scored high with achievements like the lowest cost Rotavirus vaccine which became part of the universal immunization programme and major strides towards vaccine for diseases like malaria & dengue. One out of every 6 children over the world receives vaccines manufactured in India.

♦ Vaccine for falciparum malaria is under toxicology assessment (JAIVAC 2) and vaccine for vivax malaria has completed phase I trial (JAIVAC1).

♦ A comprehensive program for prevention and control of sickle cell anemia and thalassemia has been initiated in phased manner starting with four districts of Odisha, namely Khorda, Sambalpur, Koraput (Aspirational district) and Balasore districts.

♦ Under BioDesign programme, two technologies namely “Intra-Osseous Device (Ozyn-D)” and a “Chest Tube Fixator and Sealing Device (PleuraGoh®)” were licensed to start-up companies- “M/s RCupe Lifesciences Pvt Ltd., Bangalore and M/S UNINO Healthcare Pvt. Ltd., Mumbai respectively.

♦ A diagnostic test for TB meningitis with nearly 100% sensitivity and about 91% specificity was developed jointly by AIIMS, New Delhi and THSTI, Faridabad.

♦ A comprehensive study in India titled “Dementia Science Programme: Incidence/ Prevalence/ Risk/ Intervention analysis of dementia and basic research thereof” was launched with an aim to provide reliable data regarding incidence, prevalence, biomarkers and risk and protective factors associated with the pathology of dementia.

♦ Vitamin D deficiency (VDD) is prevalent globally and the data for last two decades suggests that it may be widespread in India as well. A call for proposals on “Vitamin D deficiency in India: Public Health Significance and interventions” was issued and the Department is in the process of implementing the selected projects to support research on the public health significance of VDD and potential interventions to address this malady.

Agriculture for doubling farmer’s income and food security

♦ New Wheat variety Unnat PBW343, resistant to leaf rust and stripe rust was developed by PAU, Ludhiana through marker assisted backcross breeding approach. This variety is an improved version of mega variety PBW343, has an average plant height of 100 cm, matures in about 155 days and has an average grain yield of 23.2 quintals per acre.

♦ Two bacterial blight resistant Basmati rice varieties Pusa Basmati 1728 and Pusa Basmati 1718 were developed and subsequently released by Central Variety Release committee after testing. Of these, Pusa Basmati 1728 is a replacement of Pusa Basmati 1401 and Pusa Basmati 1718 is replacement of Pusa Basmati 1121, which are together grown on almost 1.40 million ha. area currently. Since, both varieties were releasedrecently; the area under cultivation is likely to pick up in years to come.

♦ DBT-PGGF “Plant Genotyping and Genomics Facility” (PGGF) anchored at NIPGR, New Delhi in PPP mode was established. This national facility is a “single-window service system” for advanced genomics technology services that could positively influence the Indian Seed industry.The “Facility” will have the potential to evolve into a “leading edge” genotyping service provider and a consulting facility that would have impact not only on agriculture in India, but could serve as a model on a global basis.

Animal Biotechnology

A Program on Bovine Tuberculosis (bTB) was launched in collaboration with the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation focusing on bTB surveillance for bTB prevalence, bTB control program through BCG vaccination, establishment of repository, and training of young scientists.

A Pan India programme on canine health was launched to address major problems of Canine upkeep and maintenance in terms of health, nutrition and therapy etc., to prevent zoonotic infection through integration of human and veterinary medicine interface for addressing One Health concept in canine.

Clean Energy and Bioresource development

The Minister Dr Harsh Vardhan, on 18th September 2018, announced the DBT-ICT Centre for Energy Biosciences, Mumbai’s new project on Next Generation Waste Treatment Technology platform comprising three novel technologies. A 1MLD capacity sewage water processing would be built to showcase the Next Generation Treatment Technology in an integrated manner.

Biorestoration technology was developed for Mangrove habitats of Sundarban. Substantial progress has been made not only in understanding the community composition of mangroves in degraded and non-degraded habitats but also the stress factors impacting the mangrove in degraded sites in terms of osmolytes were identified.

A Microbial Repository Centre (MRC) has been established at IBSD, Imphal with the aim to act as the nodal centre for deposit, preservation, maintenance and supply of microbial resources originated from the rich and unique ecological niches of North East (NE) India.

Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) was signedwith International Energy Agency (IEA) on Enhancing Innovation for the Clean Energy Transition on August 30, 2018 in the presence of Dr. Harsh Vardhan, Hon’ble Minister of Science & Technology and Earth Sciences, Environment, Forest and Climate Change.

Societal Development Program

To cater to aspirational districts programme of Government of India, the department has launched a new programme on “Rural Bioresource complex”. In the first phase, nine proposals institutions were awarded funding to address some of the pertinent issues related to health and nutrition, agriculture & allied areas using biotechnological tools, techniques and processes for bringing these aspirational districts in the mainstream.

International Collaborations

The DBT has signed a Programme of Cooperation (POC) with Swedish Governmental Agency for Innovation Systems (Vinnova), Sweden The broad subject areas of cooperation under the Protocol shall be, but not limited to Circular and bio-based economy, including biomaterials; Health and life sciences including biomedical devices and Start-ups, incubators, test beds and bio clusters.

Horizon 2020: The department has announced joint call for proposal under Horizon 2020 (biggest EU Research and Innovation programme). The goal is to ensure free flow of knowledge, expertise and enable public as well as private sector to work together towards delivering solutions to big challenges facing our society.

Indo-Korea Collaboration in the area of Biotechnology and Bioeconomy: DBT and the Ministry of Science and ICT, Govt. of the Republic of Korea signed an MoU in the area of Biotechnology and Bioeconomy on 9th July, 2018 at New Delhi.

Indo-Japan Collaboration: A collaborative research centre called DAICENTER, an expansion of joint DBT-AIST International lab (DAILAB) at AIST, Tsukuba was formally launched at AIST, Tsukuba, Japan. Also, the SISTER DAILAB at Osaka Centre (South Japan) was inaugurated.

India & Finland agree to cooperate: Recognizing innovation as the cornerstone of the collaboration the Department of Biotechnology, Ministry of Science & Technology, Govt. of India has signed MoU with Innovaatiorahoituskeskus Business Finland (Business Finland) to cooperate based on their mutual interest with Biotechnology Industry Research Assistance Council (BIRAC), the Public Sector Enterprise of the Department of Biotechnology (DBT), for funding and implementing ambitious industry-led innovative and transnational projects

Indo-Philippines collaboration: Under Indo-Philippines collaboration on training of women farmers, 35 Women farmers from 7 states attended training programme on “Advance in Rice Production for Women farmers” across India. Four women farmers were from the Aspirational Districts of Karnataka (Raipur) and Assam (Darrang). In the Phase II of the programme, eight women farmers out of 35 farmers will undergo advanced training at Los Banos, Philippines.

Indo-EU partnership: The Department in collaboration with European Union (EU) announced the EU-India call on “Next Generation Influenza Vaccine to protect citizens worldwide” on 26th July, 2018. Both The European Commission (EC) through the EU funding programme for research and innovation under ‘Horizon 2020’ programme and DBT have committed equal contribution of EUR 15 million under the said call.

The Department of Biotechnology that celebrated its 30th year of foundation on 26th February 2018, has delivered lot of successful projects that translated into institutions and tangible market products in last 20 years. DBT has been recognized lot many times as a top ranking one among the departments of government’s various ministries. Going forward, the year 2019 is expected to bring clarity on many policies such as genetically modified organisms including golden rice, Bt brinjal, GM mustard etc. The scaling up of BIRAC’s startup boosting programmes is expected to happen. The BRAI bill that is pending in the parliament and stands lapsed is expected to be taken up again. The new bio-clusters, skill development programmes, more industry-oriented initiatives are expected to be the centre of activities at the DBT in the new year.