Good Business Bad Science

India has many unique diseases both infectious as well as lifestyle related. It is important that Indian pharmaceutical industry invests in understanding basic biology behind such diseases and makes effort to discover drugs to treat these ailments. 

India has a big pharmaceutical industry. Pharmaceutical market in India is estimated to be upwards of 10 billion dollars. Many companies export medicines to the West. Indian pharmaceutical companies have a market share of 14 billion dollars in the US. Indian drug makers do not engage in research involving discovering new drug. Indian companies make a copy of drugs discovered in the West by different chemical reaction. This process is called generic drug research. A generic drug has to simply show that it achieves similar blood level as the original molecule.
Drug discovery involves finding a new chemical and understanding what kind of biological reaction it produces in the body. A new chemical entity is tested in different experimental animal models for biological response and adverse effects. Major challenges of drug discovery research are high cost, long gestation and poor predictability. It is estimated that it may cost upward to 500 million dollars to bring a molecule from discovery stage to market place. It may take close to 10 years to bring a new drug to market. If 10 new chemical entities enter human trial, one may have statistical probability to become a drug.
Indian pharmaceutical companies have adapted as a business strategy generic drug research. This research though less profitable compared to innovative drug, generic research is much more predictable in terms of return on investment. This approach is a good business strategy. But such an approach stifles creativity of Indian scientists as well as deprives Indian patients of drugs for diseases endemic to India. To treat Indian diseases we have relied on medicines discovered in the west. Pharmaceutical research in the west concentrates on problems that are endemic to their population.

India has a huge population that is very diverse. Unique as we may be in our biological constitution, we also suffer from many ailments that are unique to our culture and environment. There is a desperate need to initiate drug discovery research in India to address issues faced by Indians. Research in tropical diseases  endemic to India, are not even being done by the big pharmaceutical companies. Besides there may be many lifestyle related as well genetic diseases that are unique to Indian population. It is the responsibility of Indian pharmaceutical companies to invest in discovering cure to ailments afflicting Indians. Indian government must play a role by making risk intensive drug discovery research more attractive for drug houses to invest in this direction.

Tags: Innovative Drug Discovery, Generic Drug Research, High Cost, High Risk, 
Long Gestation, Poor Predictability, Indian Disease,

Do not Arm a Monkey with Sword

A Malayasian jet liner was shot down over Ukraine. All passengers and crew totaling close to 300 people died. Blame game has started. Ukraine claims the area where plane was downed was under the control of  ethnic Russian rebels that want to secede from Ukraine and merge into Russia. Since these rebels are armed and aided by Russia, it is the Russians who must be held accountable for the mess. Russian on the other hand summarily rejected the charge. Russia said the area where the accident happened was a territory under Ukraine. Russian cannot be held responsible for what happens within the boundaries of another sovregin nation.
It is surprising that an airliner flying almost five miles above the ground at nearly 500 miles per hour speed was confused to be a military aircraft! This kind of mistakes have happened before also. In the early eighties or may be late seventies, Russians had brought down a South Korean plane. All passengers on board died. A few years later, Americans had shot and destroyed an Iranian airliner carrying civilians. Those were the days of cold war. If two highly prepared and well trained professional armies can mistake a jet liner for a spy plane, less said is better of untrained or ill trained militia of Ukraine.
Since ancient times military strategists have indulged in destabilizing countries, perceived to be a threat, real or potential, through different means. Idea is to keep the country in a state of perpetual turmoil and if possible annexe or grab territory. Earlier it used to done through open aggression. In modern times, attack happens through arming and aiding dissidents in the country of interest. The present case in Ukraine is no different. Russia unhappy with Ukraine getting too close to West, is fuelling dissidence in Russian majority region of Ukraine. Rebels want to merge with Russia. Ukraine is bogged down to resolve internal struggle.

In this political gamesmanship, no power can take a morally superior position. Americans, Russians, Chinese, Pakistanis, Israel, Iran all have been involved in espionage, counter espionage and fuelling rebellion in foreging countires. Still, I think accountability of the accident should lie with the country that have supplied weapons to untrained people. However, nothing is likely to happen. United States and Western Europe may apply sanction of Russia. China will support Russia to create an anti-America block. Life will go on. Main casualty will be common people, who will keep on dying in this battle of money, muscle and ego. Moral of the story, if you arm a monkey with a sword, soon you will lose control whose head it will chop.

Tag: Malyasian Airliner, South Korean Airliner, Iranian Airliner, Ukraine, Russia, United States, China, Politics, Military Strategy, Civilian Casualty

Justice for Whom?

I am puzzled. What is happening to our justice system? Not only it is excruciatingly slow, many times it fails to deliver justice. Indian judiciary is independent from political control. Yet, seldom we see judgement that is out of the box. Whenever,  lower judiciary applies its mind, Arushi Talwar murder case, it is severely criticised by high profile lawyers and it is turned down at higher court.

There seem to be no sympathy and no empathy for the victim. How else can one interpret, decision to stay death sentence of four accused, Mukesh, Pawan, Akshay and Vinay, convicts in Nirbhaya case? I read, these four are reasonably certain that they will get presidential pardon also. So they may be out in few years. These four criminals had no remorse raping, disembowelling a girl and leaving her to die by the roadside in cold Dec night. Yet, society has to show them mercy. A fifth criminal is waiting his time out in a reformatory. Only because, he was a few years short of adult hood. He wants to forget what he did. But, what about us? How can we forget the brutality inflicted upon an unsuspecting girl? Her only fault was she went out for a movie with her friend, who happened to be a male. 

Remember, Aruna Shanbhaug, a nurse in a Mumbai hospital, who was about to get  married? Aruna was raped and left to die with an iron chain wrapped around her neck by a ward boy. Aruna is in coma for more than 20 years now. Her killer got eight years in jail. He left city, got married and settled. Yes he is settled in Delhi.. This is our justice system. Two victims, snatched from life, from family, from friends. Killers, enjoying life with all her niceties. Time to change the law. Heinous crime, severe punishment. Lock up the cretins for 50 years and throw the key away. Let them die every moment of their incarceration.

Not to mention plight of acid attack victims. A prime example is Sonali Mukherjee from Jharkhand. She had a bright future. Her face was disfigured by her tormentors by pouring acid. Sonali lost her vision. She could not do any work. Her tormentors got seven years and are out now. They are threatening Sonali Mukherjee’s family not to publicise the case. There are many such victims that do not get publicity. How can a person/s who permanently damage another persons life get away by serving only seven years in jail? Is there no justice? Can a judge not apply his/her mind and give sentence that matches the magnitude of crime?

Tags: Nirbhaya, Aruna Shanbhaug, Sonali Mukherjee, Mukesh, Pawan, Vinay, Akshay, Criminal Justice System, Supreme Court, Presidential Pardon

Does Anyone Care for Him?

I was driving to my daughter to a coaching class. On a traffic intersection, I saw an old man pointing to his mouth and stomach. He was emaciated. His legs were thinner than the arm of a lingerie model. He had a helpless look in his face. 


My heart said give him some money. My brain said, this is no solution to the problem. There are so many like them. We must work towards removing the root cause. I did not give him any money. On the way, my daughter asked for a smartphone, cost not less than Rs. 20000. I thought of buying a new iPAD, cost not less than Rs 40000. Did we really deserve to even think of these not so needed items in our lives, when I remember the hungry face of the old man in intersection? 
By the way, Modi government has put forward its budget. Business said budget lacked vision, left leaners said budget lacked mission. Meanwhile, who thinks of the man in the intersection. Why sixty years of poverty alleviation policies have not been able of solve the problem of the man begging for food at the intersection? Does anyone has any answer?

I am neither a leftist nor a right leaning person. I am not against bullet train. All I want is a resurgent India  confident India, that is also compassionate. I believe jobs not dole will solve problems of India. But who takes care of the elderly, the infirm, the people  who cannot take benefit of government has to offer?  Should it not be the responsibility of us, our society, our corporates, our government to take care of all needy, poor, and destitute?. Corporate houses get tax break and subsidies. Many  business captains earn in multiple of crores yearly salary. Should these people not have any moral responsibility to take care of the weaker sections of our society. Should this not be our national priority along with things like infrastructre, education, healthcare etc, etc.. 

Tags: Poor, Poverty, Society, India, Growth, Development

Such a Sad End, Samba Boys

Rest of the house was fast asleep.  Persistent vibration of my mobile woke up in the ungodly hour of 12.30 am,  in the morning. I tiptoed bleary eyed into the living room swithced on the TV and put it on mute.  Everybody had work to do. Not me, I was determined to watch Brazil Germany semifinal match. I listened for an hour to Sony Six team on team and strategy analysis. At last game started. Within 15 minutes, Germany scored two goals. Disappointed I switched of my TV and went back to sleep. In the morning, I opened morning news hoping against hope of a Brazil recovery. May be a 6 – 2 victory. Score line jolted me to reality. It was 7 – 1 in favour of Germany. My morning, my day and my rest of the FIFA world cup went for a toss.

I grew up in Bengal of seventies. Bengalis considered themselves to be torch bearer of Indian soccer. Growing up a subliminal message was ingrained about beauty of Brazilian football and legendary Pele. I do not know what was the basis. We had not seen any world cup match, let alone any game of Brazil or Pele. What we read in vernacular sports magazine how Pele was repeatedly tackled hard by Europeans and his free flowing game was interrupted. Those were the days hardly 20 years after independence. May be our antipathy to colonial Europeans, may be identification with  developing world that was challenging domination of Europeans, may be appreciation of flowing Brazilians soccer in comparison to machine like precision of Europeans, may be all of these have endeared us to south American style of soccer played by Brazil. Ever since we had a TV set in our house in 1980s, if Brazil was playing I would give an arm and leg not to miss the game.

This world cup was no different. I watched all the games, some time staying up at night. To be honest despite all the hoopla, Brazil did not look like the team that was capable to winning the trophy. Apart from Neymar, and to some extent Socrates, their front line looked ineffective. Less is said about the defence is better. Brazil’s defence was exposed by Croatia. Brazil could not score against Mexico. The problems were complicated due to Neymar’s injury and Silva’s suspension.

Football is a game played by eleven players. A good team must have strategy to overcome unforeseen eventualities. I do not understand, in the absence of star striker and key defence man, why did the coach not opt for more defensive formation? In 1994 final, Italy was one man short for most of the game. Yet they dragged the match and Brazil to penalty shootout without conceding a goal in regular and extra time. As early as last world cup, free flowing German soccer machine was shut down by Spanish team. Spain went on to win the cup beating the Dutch.

I thought Neymar’s absence would revitalise and charge up Brazil. They would play like wounded lion and win the game for Neymar. What I saw was a clueless defence. German forwards were not guarded, everyone had a free run at the goal. Even when a school team concedes more than five goals, it is a shame. It is no longer a defeat, it is a rout. Here we are talking about Brazil, a team that thinks nothing short of winning the game and cup every time it enters the field!

All in all, I was devastated to say the least. I feel for millions of Brazilians. Like Indians, Brazilians put a lot of faith in their team to bring them glory. Because rest the of the system in the country, government, administration, etc fails us. Yet, this time Brazilian football stars have failed their people.

Tags: World Cup, Soccer, Football, Brazil, Bengal, Germany, Spain, Neymaar, Silva

Waste to Energy, Fact or Fiction

We have heard rags to riches stories. But waste to energy! is it really possible? Incredible as it may sound, business houses are coming forward to claim huge market for Indian waste to be their own. Question is how viable is technology to rid India of her mess?
Concept of waste management is very new in India. As a people we clean our homes and throw garbage out. We feel our home is clean. We do not care our surrounding is dirty. Waste management is city follows the same principle.  Municipalities keep cities clean by dumping city’s waste on landfill sites outside city limits. As understanding and awareness of citizens improved, people realized landfill sites are a major source of disease and environment pollution, in addition to being a stinking eyesore.
In India the concept of segregating waste into biodegradable and non biodegradable did not exist till very recently. Biodegradable waste constitute nearly 70% of municipal solid waste. Issue is if these cannot be dumped into landfill sites, what do we do with them? Many companies have come forward to take cared of different aspects of solid waste management – collection, sorting, transportation and disposal. Question is how to dispose the waste? It has been proposed to burn the waste and generate electricity. A few waste to energy plants have come up in Delhi and Lucknow.
Waste to energy plants have been plagued by many questions and criticisms. According to Almitra Patel (
Collection of biogas from landfill sites is not efficient. Unless such sites are tightly closed and have impervious walls. Such is not the case in Indian landfill sites. Colonies built of landfill sites may be prone to explosion due to leaching out of biogas generated from waste underneath the ground.
The impact on human health and environment of emission generated by burning waste is not known. Highly toxic materials like dioxin are generated as a result of burning waste. Jindal groups waste to energy plant set up in Delhi has been bogged down by litigation. The plan has not produced much energy
Methane gas produced as a result of burning waste is highly combustible. Explosion due leakage of stored methane gas is not uncommon. As a result waste to energy plants are set up with a buffer zone.
Energy content of India waste is low. Moreover, unless waste is mixed with agents that produce large quantity of methane, efficiency of converting methane to electricity  is only 30%. Unless huge amount of wasted like cow dung that generates high amount of methane such projects will remain inefficient. 
Plants get mixed waste of biodegradables with non biodegradables and inerts. After sorting out biodegradables, the amount of waste for energy goes down. Plants have to buy market wastes which are in high demand as animal feed.
Cost of generation of electricity by burning waste is 2 – 4 times higher than conventional method of energy generation – thermal power or hydroelectricity. Because profitability is low such projects have to be subsidized by governments. A waste to energy plant setup in Lucknow is finding it difficult to be viable.
There is no doubt that India must have efficient system for collection, segregation, transportation and disposal of municipal waste. Involvement of private players is welcome in all steps. So far over past sixty years we have seen that our municipalities have neither understanding nor intention to keep our cities clean. It is a matter of debate / dispute how to dispose of the waste. 
Landfill sites are becoming scarce and landfills are neither scientific nor safe. It has been estimated that amount of waste lying in one landfill site in Delhi from the past, will need 10 years to be disposed of if one plant of 5 Megawatt capacity is built that consumes 1300 tones of waste per day. 
I think India must employ all avenues available at her disposal to get rid of waste. Far too long we have lived in filth and squalor. Many a time offer has to be made attractive for a business to enter into a venture. At the same time, reason for entering into a business should not be subsidy but profit in the long run. Even if it is argued that waste disposal and not power generation is the motive of waste to energy program, all the more reason not to subsidise energy production cost. Because, energy production is over and above waste disposal and operator with better technology can reap most benefit out of it. I think it should be the responsibility of agency that takes contract to dispose of waste, to think how he goes about his business. Society must not subsidise business of a private player. Specially so when low cost option like composting is available. Operator must do research and make his system safe and profitable. In return he should keep the profit he gets from energy generated from waste.

Tags: Waste to Energy, Waste Disposal, Biodegradable Waste, Methane Gas, Landfill Site, Cost of Energy Production