Wednesday, April 26, 2006


Genomics and Bioinformatics in India

There are a host of companies operating in the biotech and bioinformatics field in India today: Avestha Gengraine, DSQ Biotech, Syngene, Mahindra-BT, Metahelix, Gangagen Biotechnologies, Genotypic Technology, and Strand Genomics. The last two were started by scientists from the government-run Indian Institute of Science (IISc) and the rest are private companies.

But the earliest companies to get into biotechnology before it became such a fashionable word were Wockhardt and Biocon in the 1980s followed by Shanta Biotech and Bharat Biotech in the mid 1990s. Wockhardt, which has its main business in pharmaceuticals and healthcare, entered biotech to develop the Hepatitis-B vaccine, human insulin, and erythropoietin (EPO).

However Shanta Biotech was the first Indian company to genetically engineer the Hepatitis-B vaccine in 1998—they sold the vaccine at a fifth of the price demanded by the multinational Smith Kline Beecham. Subsequently Bharat Biotech also developed a similar vaccine and prices dropped even further. Wockhardt came out with its Biovac B in the year 2000 and organized mass immunizations where it sold the vaccine for only Rs. 100. They developed EPO in 2002 and the human insulin (called Wosulin) in 2003.

Biocon was set up to first extract enzymes and later manufacture them through fermentation—the first Indian company to master this process. Subsequently it also entered the pharmaceuticals business and set up Syngene to do contract research in the both chemical and bio engineering.

Other pharmaceutical companies have also set up biotech divisions and in-house laboratories to develop capacities in this new field.

The government

The Centre for Biochemicals was set up in 1965 as a laboratory under the Council of Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR). The CSIR runs several labs and acts as the conduit of funds to these from the concerned government department. The Indian Institute of Science (IISc) produces scientists and researchers in the various scientific fields.

The principal function of the centre was to import and store complex biochemicals and later distribute them to other private and government laboratories for use. Over the years the centre acquired expertise in engineering such products on its own and built up a small body of scientists skilled in this task. So in 1995 they were renamed the Centre for Biotechnology (CBT).

In 1997 Samir Brahmachari, an IISc professor, joined as Director of the CBT and began upgrading its infrastructure, increasing its scientists and researchers, and reorienting its role towards genomics and drug discovery. The Department of Biotechnology gave the CBT Rs. 7 crore for this purpose and in 2002 it was renamed the Institute of Genomics and Integrative Biology (IGIB).

Sunday, April 23, 2006



Bio-chemical engineering and Biotechnology
Until the 1980s chemistry-based medicines were predominant in the markets. Sold as pills, capsules, syrups, and injections, these were manufactured in laboratories from organics and plant extracts. The process of manufacture involved chemical synthesis, recombination, and chemical engineering.

Biotechnology had its roots in biological extracts from plant and animal sources—biological matter like hormones, enzymes, vitamins, antigens, insulin etc. Later these could be manufactured in laboratories through bio-chemical engineering to be sold as injections, unlike chemistry-based products. Cheaper copies of these medicines made through different processes came to be called bio-generics (generics of chemistry-based pharmaceuticals were manufactured early in India due to the government’s decision to grant process patents and not product patents in food and medicines. This was in the 1960s and 70s when India was suffering from acute food shortage).

Manufacturing these biological products in labs naturally requires knowledge of Molecular Biology, which delves deep into the structure of cells and the DNA that is contained in them.

The full set of genes in human beings is called the Human Genome—it contains 3 billion base pairs of DNA. Genomics is the study of the complete sequence of bases in the human genome, which has been on for several years since the Human Genome Project unraveled that complete sequence in the year 2000.

These bases code for protein, which is the building block of life. Studying the role of genes, the proteins they manufacture, and the subtle variations in human beings, aids in the development of bio-chemical drugs. The genome of other animals and plants is the next step in genomics.

The science of unraveling, storing, and studying the complex structures of genes is called bioinformatics—actually this term is used since information technology tools are used for this purpose. That is because amino acid structures are more about mathematics than biology. Hence disciplines like algorithms, database maintenance, and software engineering are essential in bioinformatics. It helps to reduce time for the discovery of new genes or gene variations in different human beings because of these can be quickly compared with the available database using computers.

Thursday, April 06, 2006


Roach buster

Infestation of cockroaches in your premises? Bed bugs not letting you sleep? Don’t bother calling a pest terminator or using chemicals or sprays—these can be dangerous to your children. Try out fragrant incense sticks called Bellona from India.

Our kitchen and storeroom are invariably crawling with roaches throughout the summer and monsoon seasons. Previously we would have to empty out all the cabinets and thoroughly clean the rooms before applying all manner of sprays and chemicals to kill the bugs and roaches. But this has changed ever since we heard of the magical Bellona from a friend and ordered several packets directly from the manufacturer.

Now all we do is light one incense stick and shut all windows and doors of the infested room—then we got to bed. The next day all the bugs and roaches are littered on the floor, some dead and others passed out, with their legs twitching in the air! Sweep them out and that’s about it—the room stays clear of infestations for several months.

It seems that some ayurvedic or traditional herbs are used in the incense, which draws out the roaches from dark cabinet corners and knocks them senseless. It’s a pity that the ingredients are not mentioned on the packaging, which is a common failing of our traditional herbs and medicine manufacturers. This is the reason they are not able to market their products overseas. Each incense packet has three sticks and costs a ridiculous Rs. 9.5—in other words for $100 you can buy a lifetime’s supply of Bellona!

Bellona cockroach buster incense

The manufacturers are:
Rohini Agarbatti Works,
Mysore 21,

One can write to them at this address or, even better, travel to the city of Mysore and pick up packets of incense sticks. Foreigners, in particular, should consider buying direct instead of depending on mail orders.

Wednesday, April 05, 2006


Indian System of Medicine

From the GOI site:

Ayurveda originated in India long back in pre-vedic period. Rigveda and Atharva-veda ( 5000 years B.C.), the earliest documented ancient Indian knowledge have references on health and diseases. Ayurved texts like Charak Samhita and Sushruta Samhita were documented about 1000 years B.C. The term Ayurveda means ‘Science of Life’. It deals elaborately with measures for healthful living during the entire span of life and its various phases. Besides, dealing with principles for maintenance of health, it has also developed a wide range of therapeutic measures to combat illness. These principles of positive health and therapeutic measures relate to physical, mental, social and spiritual welfare of human beings. Thus Ayurveda becomes one of the oldest systems of health care dealing with both the preventive and curative aspects of life in a most comprehensive way and presents a close similarity to the WHO’s concept of health propounded in the modern era.

A perusal of its several classical treatises indicate presence of two schools of Physicians and Surgeons and eight specialities. These eight disciplines are generally called "Ashtanga Ayurveda" and are :-
Internal Medicine(Kaya Chikitsa)
Paediatrics(Kaumar Bhritya)
Psychiatry( Bhoot Vidya)
Otorhinolaryngology and Ophthalmology(Shalakya)
Surgery( Shalya)
Toxicology( Agad Tantra)
Eugenics and aphrodisiacs(Vajikarana)

In Ayuveda diagnosis is always done of the patient as a whole. The physician takes a careful note of the patient’s internal physiological characteristics and mental disposition. He also studies such other factors as the affected bodily tissues, humours, the site at which the disease is located, patient’s resistance and vitality, his daily routine, dietary habits, the gravity of clinical conditions, condition of digestion and details of personal, social, economic and environmental situation of the patient.

The diagnosis also involves the following examinations:
General physical examination
Pulse examination
Urine examination
Examination of the faeces
Examination of tongue and eyes
Examination of skin and ear including tactile and auditory functions.


India has moved forwards in advocating global usefulness of Ayurveda contemporary scenario of health care through global net works. As a result many foreign countries have began looking to India for understanding Ayurveda and incorporating it through education, research and practice to meet the overwhelming desire of consumers to access Complementary & Alternative Medicine. Indian Missions in U.S.A., U.K., Russia, Germany, Hungary, South Africa have played an effective role in channeling the information of Ayurveda and opening up new opportunities for the spread of Indian Medicine in to foreign institutions and the general public awareness building about Ayurveda in the foreign countries has been identified as an important thrust area.

During 2001-2002 following efforts were made by the Indian Govt. in the area of globalisation:Experts were deputed to attend symposia & Seminars held in foreign countries to project Indian experiences & initiatives in the field of traditional medicine.A delegation led by Joint Secretary, Department of Indian Systems of Medicine & Homoeopathy and consisting of Ayurveda experts, scientists and industry representatives presented scientific basis of Ayurveda and the extensive research work done before a Sub Committee on Alternative Medicine set up by the House of Lords of the U.K. Parliament resulting in to moving the Ayurvedic single herbal medicines from category-3 to category-1. This presentation led to dispel doubts about the efficacy validity and scientific basis of Ayurveda which was in fact acknowledged by Lord Walton in the UK Parliament.

A Seminar cum Exhibition mainly of Ayurveda was arranged in Geneva on the occasion of the World Health Assembly with a view to sensitize the participants of the assembly about the infrastructure, strengths, scientific validity & basis of Ayurveda and efficacious role of Panchkarma in treatment of chronic diseases. The event was well received and succeeded to generate interest for Ayurveda products and literature.

Two seminars and a presentation of Indian Systems of Medicine & Homoeopathy were organised in the ‘Made in India’ show at Johannesburg, South Africa during 18-21 July, 2001. Yoga demonstrations and literatures on the practice of Ayurveda,use of medicinal plants in the treatment of comon ailments, strengths of Homoeopathy in health care and preventive & curative roles of Yoga were arranged during the seminar. Getting convinced with the strength and scientific basis of Ayurveda, South Africa has decided to enact a Regulation which will oversee in import of Traditional medicines particularly Ayurveda & Unani. Indian delegation under the leadership of Minister of State for Health & Family Welfare also visited the Nelson Mandela School of Medicine, which is a part of the University of Dehradun where, it has been decided to introduce a course on ayurveda.

Yoga experts from National Institute of Yogam, New Delhi participated in a Yoga conference arranged by the Indian Embassy in Dushanbe, Kazakhstan. Lecture cum Demonstration of Yoga were given not only to the general public but also to the staff of Ministry of Defence, teaching faculty & students of Medical University, doctors and staff of the Army Hospital.

An Indian team comprising Joint Secretary of the Department of Indian Systems of Medicine & Homeopathy and Ayurveda experts from premier institutes participated in a seminar on Indian Systems of Medicine held in Berlin, Germany. Infrastructure related details, policy support, research work of Ayurveda was highlighted through an audio-visual presentation.

A five member delegation led by the Secretary of Indian Systems of Medicine & Homeopathy visited Moscow and St. Petersburg in Russia to assess the development made on the implementation of the MOU signed between India and Russia for undertaking collaborative & co-operative activities in the field of Ayurveda. A series of meetings were held during the visit with Deputy Health Minister of Russian Federation, Academic Council of Doctors of St.Petersburg. Moscow institute of Medico-social Rehabilitation, Russian State Medical University, Academician G,I,Marchuk-Director of the Russian Academy of Sciences and representatives of Russian companies interested in importing Ayurvedic medicines and other products. The main issues discussed were related to deputation of Ayurveda teachers & experts, establishment of Ayurveda Research Center in Russia, import of Ayurveda medicines, translation of Ayurveda books & research papers in Russian language and above all recognition of Ayurveda as a medical and health care system in Russia. All these issues are actively followed up for fruitful implementation of the MOU for propagation of Ayurveda in Russia in right perspective.

Secretary of the Department along with Adviser –Ayurveda visited USA in November 2001 to discuss Ayurveda education programme with the officers of the National Center for Alternate & Complementary Medicine, which is under the National Institute of Health, Bethedsa, Washington; for evolving plans to facilitate the introduction of training modules on Ayurveda in US medical schools. A clear strategy for overall development and propagation of Ayurveda in USA has been laid down and capsule courses of Ayurveda will be introduced in US medical schools. It was decided that a team of 15 medical experts would visit India for interaction with Indian experts for exploring possibility of research collaboration in the field of Ayurveda. University of Maryland’s Medical School was found to be very receptive to introducing Ayurveda sessions in the university and to start short term teaching programme for students.

An Ayurveda officer from the department of Indian Systems of Medicine & Homeopathy participated in a W.H.O. Regional meeting on ‘Integration of Traditional Medicine in the National Health Systems’ held in November 2001 at Harare, Zimbabwe.A Memorandum of Understanding is being signed with the Government of Hungary for development of Ayurveda in that country. Hungarian Government has recognized Ayurveda and 40 of its products are being sold there.

Monday, April 03, 2006



Yoga and Ayurveda are indeed ancient India’s gifts to the modern world—Yogic exercises, meditation, and breathing techniques have been popular for a long time around the world. Ayurveda (science/knowledge of life) is slowly gaining worldwide recognition, as the previous posts indicate, but the Ayurvedic system of medicine has been popular in India for several millennia.

In the last few decades there has been a glut of “Ayurvedic Proprietary Medicine” in the market curing everything from the common cold to high blood pressure. Many of these are creams, syrups, and pills sold over the counter.

In our house we use creams like muslax and moov for joint pains, arthritis, sprains etc. and Rhumasyl linment specifically for rheumatoid pains. For sinus conditions we have Septilin tablets, Itone for eye infections, while for throat problems we use Kuka syrup. The diabetics in our family have been using Diabecon tablets for several years.

Doctors have been prescribing ayurvedic medicines instead of allopathic medicines due to their safety and lack of side effects. But there are ayurvedic medicines even for animals!

One of our dogs suffered a cut in his tail, which developed an infestation of maggots. The vet gave us a wonderful lotion called Himax—a few drops on the infestation caused the maggots to come crawling out of the wound to die in the open! Another herbal spray for dogs that we use is Topicure.

In the past Ayurvedic medicines were manufactured and prescribed by traditional doctors called Vaidyas who had inherited the science from their forefathers and became skilled in its application through practice. Though the ingredients for most medicines are the same as written in ancient texts, their proportion, and the method of preparation differed in each family of Vaidyas.

The government set up the Indian System of Medicine and Homeopathy to regulate this millennia old science of health. There are guidelines on how the medicines are to be prepared and packaged—they are now sold as pills, creams, and ointments like regular allopathic medicines with their ingredients listed on the packaging. Vaidyas are also required to study in, and graduate, from Ayurvedic colleges. With these regulations many pharmaceutical companies have begun manufacturing and marketing these traditional medicines.

Ayurvedic medicines are certified by government bodies and any new formulation must go through a process of clinical trials as in the case of allopathic medicine. And such new medicine must meet strict norms of standardization and quality. This has given Ayurveda respectability and international acceptance, even thought it is still classed as “alternative medicine” in some countries.

These measures of trials and quality controls have also prevented fraudulent companies from profiting through the sale of fake ayurvedic medicines to the unsuspecting public, which holds the traditional science in high regard.

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