India’s latest Science Policy

The Science Magazine, Down to Earth reports that on January 3, the prime minister unveiled the new Science, Technology and Innovation Policy that “aspires to position India among the top five global scientific players by the year 2020”.

The occasion was the inauguration of the centenary session of the Indian Science Congress in Kolkata.

The Magazine further reports – In its target, however, the policy is not different from the previous one announced in 2003. The 2003 policy had set the goal of raising gross research and development (R&D) expenditure to two per cent of GDP.

Quoting Dr. Mashelkar heavily the article analysis is summarised as below:

– The present policy banks upon the private sector to reach the two per cent target.

– The policy treats R&D in the private sector on a par with public institutions for availing public funds.

– It seeks to “promote establishment of large R&D facilities in public private partnership (PPP) mode

– establish a National Science Technology and Innovation Foundation as a PPP initiative

– This would entail modifying the intellectual property rights (IPR) policy for co-sharing of IPRs

Our comment – The policy and the funding outlay from the Planning Commission covers R&D on health and pharmaceuticals. Clearly, the policy environment for greater private sector participation in research and innovation is being created.The policy fails to look at some key issues as to who identifies the gaps in R&D and who sets the priorities. Treatment providers, patient groups and the Indian Health Ministry should play a greater role in priority setting for medicines, diagnostics and vaccines that are urgently needed for public health priorities in India.  The private sector will not drive R&D in areas where there is a market failure – TB, Malaria, Kala-azar, antibiotics, pediatric formulations of HIV medicines. Additionally, given the history of public-funded research in other countries, public funding might not ensure affordability of the innovated product and the industry might want exclusive rights over it. Globally, say for new HIV drugs, the basic research is always done by public institutions while the pharmaceutical industry takes it forward by incremental innovation. Much more work is needed to clarify these issues within the policy.

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