Relationship with India
Connections between Finland and India are growing stronger. One of the Indian companies at the meeting was Avesthagen, whose vision is to bring about the convergence of population genetics, functional foods, and pharma for personalized, predictive, and preventive healthcare. Its leading project is Avestagenome™, which involves biomarker discovery and predictive diagnostics. This involves the 70,000 strong Parsi population with its well-defined genealogy. The group is known for longevity, but also for increased incidence of neurological disease, stroke, heart disease, and certain cancers.
“This is the first population-based study with a global impact using a systems biology approach,” said Manan Bhatt, vp of external relations. The current focus of the genome project is upon Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, and breast and prostate cancers, with 20,000 samples to be collected by 2010. Currently, Avesthagen is carrying out genome, transcriptome, proteome, and metabolome analysis on samples collected for the Avestagenome project, and is in talks with Finnish and other collaborators on application of chip technology for designing molecular diagnostics.
Anna Erkkilä, head of the trade center and senior consultant of FinPro India in Mumbai, discussed the healthcare market in India and opportunities for life science companies. FinPro is a networking organization dedicated to internationalizing Finnish companies. She observed that demographic change was leading to a diamond-shaped healthcare market in India, with a big increase in middle-income consumers. “Companies go to India because of the reduced cost, but now stay for the quality and competitiveness,” she said.
The diagnostics market is growing, particularly in the in vitro diagnostics area, the driver being an increase in health awareness among the population, although the challenges differ in rural areas. Imported products are often too expensive, so local production is the key. Needs include diagnostics for TB, HIV, malaria, heart disease, cancer, and diabetes.
In rural areas of India, the lack of a cold chain, long distances to transport materials, and high temperatures, as well as a lack of doctors, provide challenges.
Finland will grow its presence in India through funding available for Finnish-Indian early-stage companies in medical diagnostics from Tekes, the Academy of Finland, and the Department of Biotechnology, Ministry of Science and Technology, India.