Business Express
August 19, 2003

Three Biotech firms to establish ventures in Kerala


Rajesh Abraham

Firing up the state’s biotechnology ambitions, the government has roped in three biotech firms to establish ventures in the state for commercializing Kerala’s rich medicinal plant system for conducting research & development (R&D) in the traditional ayurveda system.

This is a big breakthrough for the state after establishing a special office for Biotechnology recently for planning and executing the state’s biotech plans and the total investment for the three projects is estimated at Rs.100 crore, said Principal Secretary (Industries), John Mathai. The first among the three is a memorandum of understanding (MoU) with the Bangalore – based Avesthagen for establishing a Rs 10 crore capital base firm next week for commercializing the state’s medicinal plant strengths.

The state is also close to an agreement with a US-based biotech firm for molecular based pharmaceutical research and another with Bangalore-based Sami Labs for medicinal usage of cambodge extract. “The cambodge (kudampulli in Malayalam) extract is used for the treatment of leukemia and stomach ulcer. The venture will also look at the commercial use of herbal and spice extract in the medicines,” he said.

Rajiv Vasudevan, special officer for BT said the state had a clear cut plans for the biotech sector. The focus is on phyto-pharmaceuticals segment, where the global market is estimated to be $14 to 20 billion and growing at six percent per annum, medicinal botanicals/dietary supplements ($30-35 billion market), nutraceuticals ($10 billion market) and herbal raw material ($ 30 billion).

Rather than talking about biotech in a general way, the state’s plans to concentrate only in three to four areas where we have natural advantages, he said. In the herbal medicines segment, India’s export of $240 million is just five percent of Chinese export of $5 billion.

“Though Kerala is considered to be the home for ayurveda, we have not been able to cash-in on the huge potential.” Vasudevan added.

The services of institutes like Tropical Botanic Garden and Research Institute (TBGRI), which is the biggest botanical garden in Asia, will also be taken advantage of TBGRI maintains a 300 acre conservatory garden with 50,000 accessions belonging to 12,000 tropical plant species and their genetic variants.

Another important aspect under the government’s biotech plans will be the protection of intellectual property rights of traditional system of healing.

“We have umpteen numbers of traditional healing systems and by validating these systems, we will also be able to get much higher value, benefiting the traditional healing communities and the state as a whole,” he said.