In May 2011, SLAS sent a delegation of guest speakers to address laboratory science and technology issues as part of the Pharma+Bio educational program presented at the 2011 ChemTECH World Expo in Mumbai, India. This important annual event traditionally focuses on pharmaceutical manufacturing topics. SLAS was invited to participate in 2011 to assist the ChemTECH Foundation in expanding its scope to include pharmaceutical research and development.
"This proactive outreach speaks directly to the SLAS strategic goal of expanding our international awareness and influence," says SLAS President Michelle Palmer, Ph.D. "This visit to India was a first-hand learning experience for our leadership and an important complement to our 2010 participation in the 8th International Exhibition-Congress on Chemical Engineering and Biotechnology (ACHEMAsia) in Beijing, which featured a delegation of lab automation speakers, and our First Annual SLAS China Conference in Shanghai, which attracted more than 300 participants."
"Laboratory automation and screening professionals from more than 30 different countries are card-carrying members of SLAS," adds SLAS CEO Greg Dummer. "At LabAutomation2011 and SBS 2011, we welcomed delegates from more than 45 different countries. International subscriptions to the Journal of Laboratory Automation and the Journal of Biomolecular Screening expand SLAS's international reach even further. This international participation is not just a token badge of honor that SLAS wears proudly. It is a testament to the fact that there is genuine interest in what we offer – education, information and insights into our unique scientific specialties."
Daily news headlines about how Asian economies are experiencing ever-increasing growth and success suggest increased opportunity for SLAS membership development. In a 2010 interview with Chris Barth of Forbes, former U.S. Bank President James Wolfensohn noted that "Well until the '90s, the world was dominated by the United States, Europe, and Japan, who had 80% of the global GDP. By 2050, the probability is that 65% of the global GDP will be in Asia, which will consist of 45% to 50% in China and India and the rest in other countries in Asia. That is a monumental change. It last happened in 1815 and, before that, in the year 1500. But it has happened before, and there's now a swing back to Asia that is very clear." Why? According to Wolfensohn, "I think it is because of the lack of competitiveness of the Western economies and the fact that the Asian economies seem to be doing better in terms of governance of their countries, research and implementation of new product design and new product development. They are just more competitive."
"Today, there are around 350 companies in India which produce specialized products and services in various sectors of biotechnology," states the Business Map of India. According to India's Department of Biotechnology (DBT), "The impact of the biotechnology related developments in agriculture, health care, environment and industry has already been visible and the efforts are now culminating into products and processes. More than 5,000 research publications, 4,000 post-doctoral students, several technologies transferred to industries and patents filed including U.S. patents, can be considered as a modest beginning. DBT has been interacting with more than 5,000 scientists per year in order to utilize the existing expertise of the universities and other national laboratories."
In India, pharmaceutical business primarily resides downstream in the manufacturing areas represented at ChemTECH. Drug discovery and development as known by SLAS is just beginning and growth in this business sector faces the same challenges faced by other industries in India. According to Tim Ferguson of Forbes Asia Magazine, "Few of the serious impediments to India's progress have gone away, and these hurdles also will grab attention in 2011. Food-price inflation will beg for central bank tightening; the public health system is a soft infrastructure void as gaping as the still obvious hard types (power, water, transport); a talent-short labor pool is yet to include enough women; and the homeland remains on edge about terrorism both foreign and domestic."
For SLAS, these challenges translate into the affordability of SLAS programs, products, services and events. According to a source at a major pharmaceutical company with an R&D site in Bangalore, India, there definitely is interest and need for SLAS's educational offerings, however, the costs are generally out of reach for emerging talent. Although the company is U.S. owned and operated, only a handful of its scientists, technicians and other workers are official company employees. Most are employees of a contract company and are paid in line with the Indian economy. While they are probably well paid on the Indian scale, the costs of participating in SLAS are more than they can afford and not something their employer would underwrite on their behalf. This same conundrum is echoed in vendor relationships. Western vendors often hear from Indian companies that while there is demand for their products and desire for improved local access to service and training, their pricing is far above Indian affordability.
As long as international expansion remains an important component of the SLAS Strategic Plan and as long as growth in biotech sectors continues in Asia, this part of the world will continue to be important to SLAS. In terms of overcoming cost barriers to participation, Dummer notes that "after having experienced India first-hand, the SLAS leadership now has a much better idea of how we can maximize practical services to this market."
"Partnerships with established Indian organizations like the ChemTECH Foundation or the Indian Institute of Science will continue to be important," says SLAS Director of Education Steve Hamilton, "but primarily we need to leverage the fact that we live in an age of real-time online communication and SLAS already offers a buffet of online educational resources. Building our global community by making interested laboratory science and technology professionals in India aware of SLAS resources and making these resources more easily available to Indian audiences is the logical path." Malcolm Forbes once said, "diversity is the art of thinking independently together." As the SLAS Strategic Plan continues to take shape over the coming years, it will be with the advantages of a diverse global community in mind.
July 6, 2011