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Monday, Mar 14, 2005

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Rs 150-crore pharma R&D fund set to roll

P.T. Jyothi Datta

Mumbai , March 13

WILL the Rs 150-crore research and development (R&D) fund for the pharmaceutical industry finally get off the blocks, a good five years after it was first announced in Budget 2000-01?

"We now have the fund and it will be the complete Rs 150 crore, not just the interest amount of about Rs 10 crore. We will soon be coming out with advertisements asking pharma companies to send in their proposals to avail of the funds," Prof V.S. Ramamurthy, Secretary, Science and Technology, told Business Line.

In five years and as many Budgets, the fund could not get operationalised due to issues related to jurisdiction or which ministry would administer the fund and the actual amount of money that would be made available to the industry. When that was settled, the constant refrain from drug industry associations was that companies were not clear on how to avail of these funds.

Everything will be settled as the Budget gets passed by Parliament and the fund is advertised, the secretary reassures. "There were other funds from our ministry to support pharma R&D. But yes, the Rs 150-crore could not get disbursed till date for various reasons," he admitted.

"The guidelines to avail the funds remain the same. It will be a grant for public institutions and a loan to industry. There is no ceiling on the size of the company that can avail the fund, but all proposals from the pharma companies will be evaluated by a committee," he said.

But there is still scepticism in the air. Budget 2000-01 had proposed that the Rs 150-crore fund would get scaled up to Rs 750 crore over five years. But that decision got reversed and only the interest on the amount, about Rs 10 crore was made available to drug companies. This did not enthuse drug companies, as research is expensive business.

A domestic drug company representative points out, developing a new drug from concept to market in India costs about Rs 5,000 crore. Overseas, that would be about $ 1 billion.

No surprise then, that the pharma industry is reserving its praise for the fund.

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