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India s Biotech Department Commits $65M to Genomics Research

NEW DELHI, India, March 19 - India’s Department of Biotechnology plans to spend three billion rupees ($65 million) on genomics research over the next five years, bringing five-year forecasts for the country's genomics spending to $85 million, Biotechnology Secretary Manju Sharma said Monday. 

The funds will be distributed among 15 to 20 research teams in government centers and universities across the country, Sharma said at a biotechnology summit organized in New Delhi by India’s Associated Chambers of Commerce and Industry. 

“Major research areas will include the genomics of infectious agents aimed at finding novel drug targets against the microbes and functional genomics to seek out disease-linked genes,” Sharma said. “We're also evaluating projects involving pharmacogenomics and the search for therapeutic proteins."

India did not participate in the human genome project, but Indian researchers believe the country is well poised to plunge into genomics. In addition to the Department of Biotechnology's commmitment for $65 million, the Indian Council of Medical Research last month pledged $20 million for genomics research in universities and medical colleges across the country. 

Since the mid-1980s, India has invested over $300 million in biotechnology, creating research infrastructure and building expertise.

“Genomics means a shift from the dollar-intensive, automated generation of sequences to intellect-driven experiments and analysis of raw sequence data,” said Samir Brahmachari, director of India’s Center for Biochemical Technology in New Delhi and a summit delegate.

With government funding, CBT has launched a major program in functional genomics. Brahmachari is collaborating with researchers at India’s National Institute of Mental Health and Neurosciences in Bangalore to seek out genes associated with neurological disorders.

India’s first spinoff from genomics research may already be on the horizon. Researchers at the Jawaharlal Nehru Center for Advanced Scientific Research in Bangalore have discovered a previously unknown metabolic pathway in Plasmodium falciparum , the malaria parasite, and used that knowledge to identify triclosan – a common ingredient in toothpastes – as a candidate drug against the parasite.

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