The setting was unusual. The High Commissioner of India was visiting and the Asia Pacific Council at the Queensland Art Gallery organised a presentation of some of their very extensive Indian art to an invited group. This was yet another occasion where a guide explaining the art proved that you see more when you hear more!
But the event was not simply a lead up to the Asia-Pacific triennial of contemporary art. It was an opportunity seized upon by Randeep Agarwal, President of the Australia India Business Council Queensland, to launch into a spontaneous discussion on different facets of interactions between the two countries. With India being a very major market with its economy growing at 7% per annum and Australia being a “neighbour” in global and time zone terms there are significant opportunities for both parties.
Unexpectedly I was the first one on to whom the microphone was passed and asked the question about what should be done to seize these opportunities. I immediately recalled my recent visits to India where two powerful mantras were repeated: “Frugal innovation” and “More for Less for More”. The latter meaning that more disease treatments had to be made available at less cost for more people. This is allied to the great successes of Indian companies in establishing generic products which has changed the future of the pharmaceutical industry.
But another message from India was that having achieved victories in the “100m sprint” to manufacture generic products they now needed to have a different strategy to complete the “marathon” of discovery and development of total novel products. And this is where the opportunity with mutual benefit arises. Australia has terrific research and a less well developed development pathway. Indian pharmaceutical companies have mastered the development and manufacturing processes and have a growing number of strong researchers but could benefit from close collaborations with Australian colleagues in order to define exactly how a particular therapeutic product is working. In doing so, the generous research tax benefits available in Australia could act as a further economic argument for close connections. In addition, the task to get a new product to the “first-in-man” stage of clinical trials is significantly easier in Australia than most other countries and currently than in India.
As we nibbled cheese and admired the gallery surroundings, it appeared that my comments gave food for thought. At QIMR Berghofer Medical Research Institute we have been acting to build these connections for four years and progress has been made with one company and I am sure that many others will follow suit.