Biotechnology is one field that has evolved over centuries with wide scope of implementation across various end-user industries such as agriculture, healthcare, among others. Continuing its pace, the biotechnology field is today making major strides globally as a solution to pollution control, cost reduction and resource conservation.
In line with global nations, Nepal is one country that holds high potential in the biotech industry because of its reliance on agriculture and overall industry development.
We got a chance to explore more about the status of biotechnology in Nepal. In an interaction with Nepali Sansar Bureau (NSB), Nabin Narayan Munankarmi, President of the Biotechnology Society of Nepal (BSN) shared his views on some interesting aspects on the progress of the biotechnology sector in Nepal.
Here are few excerpts from the interview:
1. NS Bureau (NSB): Nepal seems to be making rapid strides across various sectors. How do you see the scope of biotechnology industry in Nepal?
Nabin Narayan: From bird watch, scope is huge. In every sector, biotechnology has great promises. And, we are continuously provoking investors to do invest in this section along with grads, undergrads, especially those committed to work in Nepal.
2. NSB: We see the presence of renowned universities like Kathmandu University (KU) in Nepal. In this regard, what do you feel about academia and policy level support to the research and development in the biotechnology industry in Nepal?
Nabin Narayan: Not only KU, there are other universities such as Tribhuvan University (TU) and Agriculture and Forestry University (AFU). While KU, for the first-time, introduced bachelor’s program, TU introduced the master’s program and AFU also has grads and undergrads level courses in biotechnology. However, I find a gap of communication, collaboration and understanding between academia and policy levels. There is no biotechnologist at policy level and researchers across universities are limiting their scope to universities, and hence the industry is out of contact from academia and policy levels. However, BSN is bridging the gap to some extent.
3. NSB: How about the interest among the students and educational institutions for biotechnology courses. How do you find the scope of it?
Nabin Narayan: Interest among them is growing and praiseworthy. Unfortunately, our country is still unable to make their dreams come true, an unfortunate case for graduates in biotechnology. However, some research institutions such as Center for Molecular Dynamics Nepal (CMDN), Research Institute for Bioscience and Biotechnology (RIBB), Dr. Koirala Research Institute for Biotechnology and Biodiversity (KRIBB), and companies like Shikhar Biotech, Hester Bioscience, Biovac, Prarambha Biotech, Shrestha Seeds and others organizations gave some solid hope.
4. NSB: Where does the Nepali biotechnology industry currently stand at? Give us a brief about the path of the industry from past to present and towards future.
Nabin Narayan: As stated in the famous Nepali saying, “It’s better having a blind maternal uncle instead of no maternal uncle”, the status is good.
Nepal has a biotechnology industry with wide range of scope from compost making to antibodies making, vaccine making and bioremediation. In the past, there were vermicompost, compost, pesticide making and polyclonal making (non-Nepali) companies.
Even the students from engineering background are showing interest in the biotech Industry (e.g. National Biotech Pvt. Ltd), plant tissue culture (e.g. Nepal Biotech Nursery), which were followed by Nepal-based Molecular diagnostic lab, Biomedical, public health, conservation, animal-based genome project, bioremediation, biotransformation, biofuel-producing research institutions and/or companies followed by assurance from medical professional. This indicate a positive side and prosperous future for the Nepali biotechnology industry.
5. NSB: As an association working for the development of biotechnology, what do you think is the need of the hour for the biotechnology industry development in Nepal?
Nabin Narayan: Foremost, professors and/or academia should dare to start companies and/or become entrepreneurs. And parallelly, they need to motivate budding upcoming talents in the field. Since the scope of biotechnology is diverse, there is a need to identify biotechnologists in specific areas such as Plant, Agriculture, Medical, Pharmaceutical, Environment, Food and Microbial fields. Sidewise, policies need to be modified offering biotechnologists a space in the aforementioned sectors. As a society, we find a gap or lack of international-level support to Nepal in terms of biotechnology sector. So, there is a need to create proper channels allowing Nepalese stay advanced in knowledge gaining and also push international funding sources for the benefit of the country rather than personal benefits. This will ultimately act as fuel for the establishment of hi-fi biotech industries in Nepal.
6. NSB: How about the willingness of Nepali industries like pharmaceuticals and other related industries in welcoming biotechnology solutions?
Nabin Narayan: To be frank, its poor and worst! Don’t know exactly why. Though the core aspects of drug molecule discovery is related to biotechnology, the pharmaceutical industry is not considering biotechnologists and is instead focusing just on marketing representatives. Similar is the case of the related industries. However, BSN didn’t stop! We have been trying to make them aware about the importance of biotechnologists. The pharmaceutical industry in Nepal does the processing work rather than research work, which may be the reason behind their unwillingness towards biotechnologists. But, we do see some interest among agriculture, alcohol and beverage industries on biotechnology solutions.
7. NSB: As an agriculture-driven country, Nepal holds good potential for research in agriculture biotechnology. What is your take on this? What developments do you observe towards this path?
Nabin Narayan: Yes, the surface thought is this. But in reality, the theme is based on traditional ways rather than the latest biotechnology. There are different national, international and private organizations working for the agriculture sector. Government entities like Nepal Agriculture Research Council (NARC) work for biotechnology, but not to the required extent, for instance, NARC Biotechnology Division, Gene Bank, Fish genetic analysis and to some extent, on animal genetic breeding. This can be considered positive. Even Marker-Assisted Selection (MAS) and Marker-Assisted Breeding (MAB) of plants have been in research. Similarly, plant barcoding holds great promise. While for the rest, things were practiced in terms of seed production, fertilizer production, biopesticides and plant tissue culture. Therefore, from making compost to plant tissue culture, barcoding and MAB can be considered as the development path of agriculture biotechnology in Nepal. As a society working for biotechnology, we share these sorts of information with young grads, undergrads, researchers and academia in Nepal and overseas through training, workshop, symposium, conference, bulletins (BSN bulletin) and journals (NJB). In addition, we do collaborative research in aforementioned section as far as practicable.
8. NSB: How about the contribution of core organizations such as Nepal Biotechnological Association (NBA) and Nepal Molecular Biology Society (NEMBIS) that have been closely working with the field of biotechnology in the country?
Nabin Narayan: They are just existing for the namesake with some occasional programs like conferences and seminars. These organizations reach out mostly to post graduates, and are at a far distance for those interested from school-levels. Though they seem to be the core organizations, they hardly have any growth contribution for the Nepali biotechnology sector in the last 30 years. BSN could address some of the areas missed out, thus contributing to the biotechnology development. BSN can play a key role in ensuring better biotechnology and better Nepal.
9. NSB: Research on biotechnology has gone to different levels across the world. What sort of support Nepal requires from the world nations in taking ahead its biotechnology industry, either in the form of research or investment support? Any related moves in the recent times?
Nabin Narayan: As said earlier, we didn’t see any solid overseas support to Nepal in terms of biotechnology sector despite the country’s usual inclination to foreign support. Organizations like World Health Organization, Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), International Maize and Wheat Improvement Center (CIMMYT) and United Nations Development Program (UNDP) seems absent in this scenario to some extent.
We do expect both the financial and non-financial support. It will be great if international organizations show interest on establishing research institute and/or company either alone or through joint venture with Nepalese. Frequent short or long term training programs, workshops and courses connecting Nepal and overseas participants will for sure help interested Nepalese understand the void in the development and also stay up-to-date on recent breakthroughs through knowledge sharing mechanism. We can do such things on mutual benefits with reflection of brotherhood and harmony.
10. NSB: What are the current challenges and measures to address them, and your future vision for the Nepali biotech industry?
Nabin Narayan: Foremost challenge is for a change within. We must change the thought process of established and under-established biotechnologists in Nepal. We need to bring a holistic change in their thoughts to make them work for the society rather than for personal benefits. The next challenges are to change the views of policy makers, bureaucrats and government entities towards making them aware on both the positive and negative sides of cutting-edge technologies.
BSN is looking at permanent establishment of biotechnology and related industries in Nepal. Promotion and awareness are the need of the hour with day-to-day advancements. Therefore, we will for sure continuously update our members and general public about this demanding technologies. Interestingly, we started getting little support from government entities and we prefer to transform such little support into large-scale activities. Furthermore, we are expecting cross-national support, both financial and non-financial, to run the programs and establish society-based research laboratories. These labs will act as a bridge between Nepal and overseas collaborators and also work as catalyst in engaging innovative and interested stakeholders for overall benefits to Nepal and the world as well.