Sunday, October 14, 2007


Medical research institutes


Gina S. Krishnan interviews Elias A. Zerhouni, director of the US-based National Institute of Health (NIH), the world’s largest Medical research institutes centre with a budget of $29.2 billion

What are NIH’s priorities?

We investigate the causes, treatments and preventive strategies for both common and rare diseases. It could lead us into important medical discoveries to improve people’s health and even save lives. The NIH Roadmap for Medical Research, a vision we formed in 2003, focuses the attention of biomedical research on new pathways of discovery, on the research teams for the future and on the re-engineering of the clinical research enterprise.

It aims to accelerate the pace of discovery and quicken the application of new knowledge on the development of new prevention strategies, new diagnostics and new treatments. We wish that ultimately it would help deliver the innovations to the healthcare providers and the public. In 2005, the NIH launched the Office of Portfolio Analysis and Strategic Initiatives (OPASI) to transform the way we find and fund cutting-edge research. It also aims to improve our ability to identify public health challenges and increase trans-NIH dialogue, improve decision-making and priority-setting.

OPASI will provide an ‘incubator space’ to jump-start trans-NIH initiatives and support international collaborations that will take the lead on priority projects on a time-limited basis within five to 10 years. More than 83 per cent of the NIH’s funding goes out in the form of 50,000 competitive grants and awards to over 325,000 scientists and support staff at over 3,000 universities, medical schools, and other research institutions in the US and around the world.

How productive is the current research relationship between India and the US?

We have a longstanding and productive relationship with many of India’s leading biomedical and behavioural research institutions. This relationship has been a true partnership in which each side has combined efforts, resources and talent in developing new scientific knowledge with global significance.

The NIH collaborates with India through the support for investigator-initiated grants, bilateral joint working groups established under Indo-US agreements, targeted workshops, research training activities, and positioning of an NIH official in New Delhi to support clinical research activities. The NIH supports approximately 150 peer-reviewed research collaborations involving India, which is a marked increase from previous years.

How do you see India’s progress in medical and health research?

India is coming out with world-class science and technology developments. Our collaborations with India are on a peer-to-peer basis. We greatly value the relationships we have established with Indian scientists, who we consider among the best in the world. We have extensive bilateral collaborations with the Government of India research institutions such as the Department of Biotechnology and the Indian Council of Medical Research.

Also, Indian pharmaceutical and biotech companies have been increasing their own research and development programmes. This is an important development that we believe could result in substantial scientific advances for global health.

A major constraint in India, it is believed, is funds for research...

On the contrary, we have been pleased with the increased funding and other commitments in recent years by the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare and the Ministry of Science and Technology. The NIH is partnering with many of the technical agencies within these ministries.

Fortunately, our partnerships have not been constrained by the lack of funding by the Government of India. It is important to note that in many of our bilateral programmes, the Government of India matches the NIH funding to support the Indian component of research collaborations.

What do you think of Indo-US collaboration in biomedical research?

NIH collaborations with India are already among our largest and longest bilateral collaborations. These partnerships are vibrant and involve multiple NIH institutes and centres in a wide variety of priority research areas. We’re glad to see that the partnerships have been constantly growing and evolving.

There are approximately 300 Indian scientists working in NIH laboratories within the United States at any given time. Moreover, there are many more from India who work or receive research training in leading US universities through programmes supported by NIH funding.

The scientific products of the Indo-US biomedical research collaborations are being translated into new and improved vaccines, drugs and diagnostics. We believe these results would be increasingly important for both nations as we are forced to combat
infectious and chronic diseases worldwide.

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