India underinvests in science
Express Pharma|July 2021
Unless we build more than simply two or three global centres of scientific excellence and training, and unless we reward our scientists to work in those institutions, it will be hard for us to compete with countries like China, informs Dr Swami Subramaniam, CEO, Ignite Life Science Foundation to Akanki Sharma in an exclusive interview
Akanki Sharma

Give us a brief about Ignite Life Science Foundation - the story of its origin, its goal and target audience, etc.

Ignite was launched formally at an event in January 2020 but its story had begun prior to that. It is the brainchild of Professor Ramaswamy Subramanian, who was at that time heading C-CAMP in Bengaluru - a part of the Bangalore biocluster. During his working years in India, he recognised many problems Indian scientists were facing and it was not simply a matter of quantum of funding; there were multiple factors.

Research productivity thrives in a complex ecosystem. Very few countries in the world have succeeded in building such self-sustaining ecosystems consisting of multiple factors -government funding, academic institutions (that are often private) that consider research an important purpose for their existence, ability to attract the best students from the global pool, private philanthropists willing to support science through large endowments and the co-existence of research universities with communities of investors, start-ups and large company R&D facilities The Boston-Cambridge (Harvard) area and the San Francisco Bay Area (Stanford), Cambridge University (Cambridge, UK) and the Stockholm area (Stockholm University) are some examples.

Building out such ecosystems takes time, but Rams and his scientific peers got together with leading business persons and academics in India to find Ignite as an organisation that would nurture good science using philanthropic money. Connecting uHNIs to science in Indian universities is the first step towards getting widespread acknowledgement of the challenges facing Indian science and pooling resources and capabilities to solve some of these challenges - funding is only one among those.

So, Ignite is an organisation with the purpose of building not just good science in the country, but also building research capacity because there are critical areas of research where a capacity in the country is missing because of historical reasons. For example, we don't have good fundamental vaccinology research going on in India as we noticed during this last pandemic. The only vaccine launched used an older technology. There was nobody in India, ready with messenger RNA technology for developing vaccines, and this is important because the fastest route to launch a vaccine is using messenger RNA technology, which is why the Pfizer vaccine got launched way before the Bharat Biotech one.

So, if we see, this is a gap that we identified; but, like this, there are many other missing pieces in the overall puzzle of Indian science. Unless those pieces are filled, Indian science will always find it hard to deliver to the expectations and requirements of India.

There are other healthcare needs in India, which are unique to the country. The second one could be antimicrobial resistance, and the third would be nutrition. So, in some of these areas where India faces unique challenges and problems, Indian capacity needs to be built. Hence, Ignite was found with these two purposes in mind.

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