Merck to expand research partnerships in India

Written by Corporate Bureau | Hyderabad, Feb 7 | Updated: Feb 8 2008, 08:56am hrs
Bullish on collaborative efforts for research activities, Merck & Co is in the process of expanding research partnerships among Indian companies in the next 12-18 months. The company has initiated talks with few companies for drug discovery and development agreements in some of the therapeutic areas such as metabolic disorders, diabetes, oncology, obesity, CNS, etc thus ruling out any plans for setting up a manufacturing base or an exclusive R&D centre in the country.

Speaking at the sidelines of the fifth edition of BioAsia 2008, Bharatt Chowrira, VP, Sirna Therapeutics Inc and ED of Worldwide Licensing & External Reserarch, Merck, said: ''While we have no plans to set up a manufacturing base or an R&D centre in India, we are seriously on the look out for more collaborative research projects in the country. Besides, we are also looking out for partnerships with institutes for co-development of projects.'' The company currently has partnerships with Advinus, Nicholas Piramal, NIPER, Chandigarh, National Centre for Biological Sciences, Indian Institute of Science, etc.

Giving out reasons, he said that every country has its own advantage like China is strong in manufacturing, India is strong in chemistry skills. However, the maturity of these collaborated developmental works can turn into actual products as well, he added.

''We are serious about the R&D relationships in Asia in areas such as contract research and clincical trials and will be embracing partnerships,'' he said adding that Merck is building a virtual laboratory by mounting best scientific programs and there is more of external research conducted by partners. The company is searching for partners with a true collaboration mindset and the ability to deliver compounds against novel targets.

On the research front, the company is working towards providing personalized medicine. It has screened over six lakh RNAi, out of which two to three are in clinical trials and 10-20 are candidates for in pre-clinical trials. For starters, RNA interference (RNAi) is a mechanism that inhibits gene expression at the stage of translation or by hindering the transcription of specific genes. RNAi targets include RNA from virus and play a role in regulating development and genome maintenance.

''The RNAi would help in reducing the time taken from target stage to lead optimization which may be from six years to at least to four years besides reducing the costs,'' he said. He said that mostly 93% of the screend compounds are deleted from the pipeline creating a lot of pressure for identifying lead compounds. The screened RNAi would help in developing personalized or customized medicine for a specific targeted disease.