Indian Pharmaceutical Industry - A Developmental Agenda Based on R&D Perspectives

Dr. M. D. Nair

Abstract: History of Drug Discovery & Development

While systems of Medicine successfully operated under the Indian and Egyptian civilizations around 1500 BC or even earlier, over the past several centuries they have been displaced by the system of modern medicine or the allopathic system, which today is the most visible and most practiced around the World. Its roots are very recent, not more than 100 years old, with major developments happening only after the Second World War. The achievements of the system of modern medicine during this period, however are very impressive indeed and today it constitutes the first line of medical intervention in most of the societies not only in the developed world but also in the developing ones.

The basic concept of prophylaxis evolved out of the discovery of the small pox vaccine which was followed by a host of vaccines for several bacterial and viral infections. Even though there was a diminished interest in vaccines research during the seventies and eighties due to real or perceived poor returns on investments in the area, there are visible signs of a resurgence during the last few years. On the flip side, the fact is that in spite of the availability of vaccines for many diseases, around one quarter of child deaths occur even today, from diseases which could have been prevented through vaccinations. This is primarily due to lack of infrastructure and financial resources in countries where vaccine programmes are most needed.

While a large number of drugs such as quinine, morphine, codeine, aspirin etc were discovered through the application of traditional knowledge of their use by natives in different societies, modern chemotherapy developed its roots only after the discovery of sulfonamides. Subsequently, a plethora of antibiotics were discovered and developed close on the heels of the discovery and production of Penicillin during the later stages of the second World War. Development of microbes' resistance to antibiotics continues to be a major threat to their effectiveness and consequently in spite of there being over a 100 antibiotics in the market, the search for newer ones continue unabated. Non-antibiotic anti-infectives such as cotrimoxazole and a large number of quinolones have increased the choice available for treating bacterial infections.

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