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    India Alliance promotes clinical and public health research

    A new funding stream from the India Alliance aims to boost clinical and public health innovations in India by supporting the country’s clinicians to do research in these areas.

    The India Alliance, an £80 million joint initiative between the Government of India’s Department of Biotechnology (DBT) and the Wellcome Trust, has launched a new funding stream to tackle the dearth of clinical and public health research done in the country.

    Biomedical research centres across the country are internationally recognised for nurturing some of the brightest minds in the world. But a lack of infrastructure and resources has, until now, prevented translation of biomedical discoveries into public health solutions for India’s 1•2 billion population.

    Ajit Lalvani, professor of infectious diseases, Imperial College London, UK, is chair of the new India Alliance Clinical and Public Health Research Committee. “Clinical and public health research is something of a lacuna in the Indian medical research landscape currently”, he points out. “World-leading basic biomedical research is conducted widely in India but generally does not speak to the country’s enormous public health needs.”

    In response to this, the new committee aims to identify and support the best minds to adopt and nurture a practical orientation towards India’s immediate and near future clinical and public health needs.

    Due to the constraints of time and the sheer volume of patients, Indian clinicians rarely find opportunity to follow through on their research leads. They often work 13-hour days, 6 days a week. “Many of these clinicians have great ideas about how to address the problems they see on a daily basis”, says Lalvani. “We want to enable them to take a few years away from the coalface and actually conduct research.”

    The new programme is grounded within the India Alliance that was founded in 2008 in response to a shared desire to support high quality Indian research careers. “We felt it important that in a country of over 1 billion people a credible research career pathway should be available for the best scientists.
    In particular, the Alliance has been able to establish selection committees of Indian and international members using transparent, peer-reviewed, merit-based processes to select candidates”, remarks Jimmy Whitworth, Head of International Activities at the Wellcome Trust.

    Representing the Government of India as secretary of the DBT, Krishnaswamy Vijayraghavan also acknowledged that the India Alliance had nurtured excellence in biomedical research, which had met with much success, but, “the gorilla in the room is the substantial gap in developing clinical research”, he says. “Now, the Alliance has confronted this gorilla eye-to-eye and is edging it out of the room. A successful clinical research fellows programme can transform India again, and indeed the world.”

    Initially, there is a practical challenge of few clinical research units in India. Lalvani acknowledges that inevitably, the first clinicians to be funded would mostly be associated with these units. “We expect that in time there will be an outward spread of excellence from those units.”

    In recognition of the need to encourage the talent of bright young clinicians who lack an established support network, the committee has set up 2-year start-up career training fellowships, in addition to the early, intermediate, and senior fellowships. These will enable early career clinicians to spend 4 days a week in research, helping their research careers gain traction.
    Applicants need to have the support of an effective and committed mentor. “This is key for us. We want to be sure there is relevant collaboration and scientific experience to mentor the applicant”, explains Lalvani.
    One of India’s leading clinicians and researchers is Gagandeep Kang, professor and head of gastrointestinal sciences at the Christian Medical College Vellore, India. Kang highlighted how the Alliance had quickly recognised the need for applications in clinical and public health research, given India’s size and the rapidly changing demography. “By creating a separate track for public health and clinical researchers, the Alliance is addressing this. This will go a long way towards creating the talent needed to address our current and future challenges in health.”

    The India Alliance is headquartered in India and is about India in every sense. Lalvani emphasises this: “Assessment of fellowships will be conducted in India. Interviews will move around from city to city allowing us to interact with medical schools throughout the country.”

    Lalvani’s 5-year vision is that they will have nurtured a cadre of talented researchers, and, in 10—15 years, the level of excellence will parallel that of basic biomedical research enabling innovations to have an impact on public health. “However, the specific research outputs are up to the researchers”, he says. “We identify and fund the best minds and they themselves produce the magic.”

    The Lancet no:9904/ Nov 9th ,2013.

    G Mohan.

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