Pune BioCluster: An amalgamation of ideas, hi-tech facilities and industrial resources

Anuradha Mascarenhas
The BioClusters are an attempt to facilitate a conversation between scientific and industrial groups, and spur innovative research and development as well as entrepreneurship. (Representational Photo/File)

The Pune BioCluster was inaugurated by Dr Renu Swarup, secretary of the Department of Biotechnology, (DBT), Ministry of Science and Technology, on Friday. The Indian Express explains the concept behind the cluster, and the ways in which it seeks to integrate research,
industry and resources.

What is a BioCluster?

The BioClusters are an attempt to facilitate a conversation between scientific and industrial groups, and spur innovative research and development as well as entrepreneurship.

The decision to establish such BioClusters was taken by the Centre in February 2014. BioClusters have already come up in Faridabad (Haryana), Kalyani (West Bengal) and Bengaluru (Karnataka). Pune is the fourth BioCluster in the initiative.

What is special about the Pune BioCluster?

The Pune Biotechnology Cluster Model Organisms to Human Disease is spearheaded by the National Centre for Cell Science (NCCS) and the Indian Institute of Science Education and Research (IISER), Pune, and funded by the Department of Biotechnology. It aims to enhance academic interactions between various institutions in Pune and provide an opportunity for the members of the cluster to take advantage of each other s expertise in developing animal models for tackling human diseases.

To ensure better utilisation of resources, the cluster will provide a platform where participants can use high-end facilities. Constant discussions between institutions will also help them leverage each other s scientific strengths. The Pune BioCluster will be a unique platform for these groups to connect and solve problems related to human diseases.

The vision is to connect members of the public, academic institutions and biotechnology companies and help them engage in fruitful conversations towards understanding and solving problems related to human diseases.

Why was Pune chosen as one of the sites?

Pune has several research organisations, academic institutions, biotechnology firms and industries, and clinicians engaged in research. The Pune BioCluster is expected to benefit stakeholders from all these sectors, said Dr Renu Swarup. While NCCS and IISER will set up and drive the cluster, it will draw its strength from the vibrant research ecosystem that already exists in Pune.

What is the organisational set-up and how is the initiative funded?

BioClusters, by definition, are multi-institutional ventures attempting to build research and development ecosystems by combining available expertise and facilities to promote efficient usage and productivity. The participating institutions are chosen on the basis of their expertise and competence to develop effective bioclusters. Currently, the government has provided Rs 100-120 crore for managing the cluster. The NCCS and IISER will be the central enabling points.

There is an apex advisory committee, a scientific advisory committee and a series of other committees for the facilities that will be offered. There will be a cluster management board and scientific board that identifies specific missions. The main aim is to develop state-of-the-art technology platforms that will pool together expertise from institutions/academia/biotech firms and start-ups to undertake larger scientific pursuits.

What facilities will be offered at NCCS?

It will offer bioimaging facility, which will procure multiple microscopes with perse capabilities to cater to the needs of scientists from academics and private research laboratories in and around Pune. The upcoming Biosafety Laboratory-3 is one of the core facilities of Pune BioCluster that will be located at NCCS campus, said Dr M K Bhat, director of NCCS. This state-of-the-art high-containment facility will be designed to conduct in-vitro and in-vivo research with high-risk organisms (both bacteria and viruses) in compliance with the regulations outlined by the World Health Organisation.

This facility will serve as an important platform for developing animal models for various infectious diseases, said Dr Chandni Praveen, the in-charge of BSL-3 facility. The proteomics facility will provide mass spectrometry services like protein identification, among others.

What facilities will be offered at IISER?

The Whole Animal Imaging Facility is well equipped for housing and maintenance of animals needed for experiments, and will be made available for users from other research or academic institutes and industries. The microscopy facility will offer a broad spectrum of imaging solutions such as nanoscale, fast dynamics of cellular processes and deep tissue imaging .The BioCluster will also have flow cytometry facility and electron microscopy facility.