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11 Must-Know Facts About Asima Chatterjee

Her publications are extensively cited and most of her work is included in several textbooks

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Asima Chatterjee was the first Indian woman to hold a doctorate. Wikimedia Commons
Asima Chatterjee was the first Indian woman to hold a doctorate. Wikimedia Commons

Asima Chatterjee was an organic chemist noted for her work in organic chemistry and phytomedicine. She also authored a considerable volume of work on medicinal plants, also she was the first woman to receive a Doctorate of Science from an Indian university. On 23rd September 2017 (her 100th birth anniversary), Google honoured her with a Google doodle. 

Here are 11 facts about Asima Chatterjee you must know: 

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1. Asima Chatterjee’s research primarily focused on the medicinal properties of Indian plants and contributed to developing drugs that treated epilepsy and malaria.

2. One of her most esteemed discoveries came in the field of vinca alkaloids which are used in chemotherapy today.

3. Her achievements won her many prestigious accolades including received the Shanti Swarup Bhatnagar Award (1961) and the Padma Bhushan (1975) – one of the highest civilian awards bestowed by the Indian government.

4. In 1944, she was appointed as an Honorary Lecturer in Chemistry, Calcutta University. In 1947, she worked with L.M. Parks University of Wisconsin, USA.

Calcutta University became her permanent address until her death in 2006. Wikimedia Commons
Calcutta University became her permanent address until her death in 2006. Wikimedia Commons

5. Asima Chatterjee was appointed Reader in the Department of Pure Chemistry, Calcutta University in 1954. It also became her permanent address until her death.

6. In 1962, Asima Chatterjee became the 10 Khaira Professor of Chemistry, one of the most prestigious and coveted Chairs of the Calcutta University which she adorned till 1982 and was the first woman scientist to adorn a chair of any
University in India.

7. In 1975, she became the first woman to be appointed the general president of the Indian Science Congress.

8. Asima Chatterjee also established a Regional Research Institute for carrying out research on Indian medicinal plants for the development of Ayurvedic drugs along with an Ayurvedic Hospital for systematic clinical trials through a unique Centre-State collaboration, under the aegis of the Central Council for Research in Ayurveda and Siddha in Salt Lake City, Kolkata.

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9. Asima Chatterjee developed the anti-epileptic drug, Ayush-56 from Marsilia minuta, also the anti-malarial drug from Alstonia scholaris, Swrrtia chirata, Picrorphiza kurroa and Ceasalpinna crista. These patented drugs have been marketed by several companies.

10. Chatterjee had published 400 papers in national and international journals. Her publications are extensively cited and most of her work is included in several textbooks.

11. It is said that she developed the interest in medicinal plants because of her father, Dr Indra Narayan Mukherjee, a medical man cum amateur.

Next Story

Biotechnology Can Meet The Growing Energy Needs Of Rural India

The Indian economy also has a distinct advantage with respect to its demography that can ensure sustained growth for the sector.

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Indian biotechnology industry has flourished over the years. As of 2016, India had over a thousand biotechnology start-ups. Pixabay

Over the last two-to-three decades, the major success story of the Indian economy has been the stellar growth of its IT industry. But as the dividends from the sector reach the eventual inflection point, India needs to build similar competencies in other industries to ensure sustained growth and prosperity.

It is not acknowledged as often but the biotechnology industry seemed poised to take over the mantle. In the span of a decade beginning in 2007, the industry has grown exponentially in size from about $2 billion to over $11 billion in terms of revenue. By 2025, it is targeted to touch $100 billion.

The biotechnology industry, however, has been impacting Indian lives long before it grew so much in size. Back in the mid-1960s, advancements in biotechnology drove the Green Revolution, which enhanced farm yields and made the country self-sufficient in food production.

A similar contribution from the sector was witnessed in the White Revolution when India became a milk-surplus nation and improved the nutrition level of its citizens.

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However, a few challenges need to be addressed if India is to fuel the growth of its biotechnology industry and achieve its target of making it a $100 billion industry by 2025. Pixabay

More recently, the meteoric growth of the Indian pharmaceutical industry is a result of process innovation that has given the country a cost advantage in the manufacture of drugs.

Further, the growing energy needs of India’s rural areas have been increasingly met by biomass fuel.

These outcomes have been the result of years of concerted efforts by the Indian government to enable the growth of the industry. As early as 1986, Rajiv Gandhi, recognising the potential of biotechnology in the country’s development, set up the Department of Biotechnology, making India one of the first countries in the world to have a government department solely dedicated to biotechnology.

Over the years, the Department of Biotechnology has set up 17 Centres of Excellence at higher education institutions across the country and has supported the establishment of eight biotechnology parks across different cities. The biggest contribution of the department has been in setting up of the Biotechnology Industry Research Assistance Council (BIRAC) in 2012, which has successfully supported 316 start-ups in its six years of existence.

Due to these efforts, the Indian biotechnology industry has flourished over the years. As of 2016, India had over a thousand biotechnology start-ups. To put matters in perspective, Australia has a total of 470 biotechnology companies. More than half of these start-ups are involved in healthcare – drugs, medical devices and diagnostics – while about 14 per cent are in agricultural biotechnology and about 18 per cent in biotechnology services.

The Indian economy also has a distinct advantage with respect to its demography that can ensure sustained growth for the sector. More than half the Indian population is below the age of 25. On a global scale, the median age in India (26.5 years) is much below that of China (35.9 years) and the US (37.1 years). An effective utilisation of this demographic advantage will provide India a competitive edge over all other emerging economies in the advancement of biotechnological research and development.

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he industry argues that India’s stricter standards for patents discourages innovation and dampens foreign investment. Pixabay

However, a few challenges need to be addressed if India is to fuel the growth of its biotechnology industry and achieve its target of making it a $100 billion industry by 2025. First, India’s research and development expenditure is quite low at 0.67 per cent of GDP, not only compared to mature biotechnology economies such as Japan and the US (which stands at around 3 per cent) but also in comparison to emerging economies like China (which is at around 2 percent).

Second, and more specific to the biotech pharmaceutical sector, there are a few India-specific challenges with the country’s IP regime. There are two main areas of contention for the industry in India’s approach to intellectual property. The first issue lies in Section 3(d) of the Patents (Amendment) Act, 2005, which sets a higher standard for patentability than mandated by TRIPS. The industry argues that India’s stricter standards for patents discourages innovation and dampens foreign investment. The second issue is that of compulsory licensing, which gives the government power to suspend a patent in times of health emergencies. Although India has used this option only once, the industry feels that such regulations keep investors clear of Indian markets.

A third challenge lies in the risk involved in the Valley of Death, that is, the risk of failure in the transition of innovative products and services from discovery to marketisation. Most of the early research funding, often provided by universities or the government, runs out before the marketisation phase, the funding for which is mostly provided by venture capitalists. It becomes difficult to attract further capital between these two stages because a developing technology may seem promising, but it is often too early to validate its commercial potential. This gap has a huge impact in commercialisation of innovative ideas.

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Thus, the Indian government needs to act on these challenges facing the biotechnology sector. An increase in investment towards research and development and building human capital is the most crucial point of action. These initiatives have shifted growth trajectories of countries like China away from India. As for the challenging IP regime, the government needs to come together with the biopharma industry and chalk out a middle ground that recognises the value of innovation and does not hurt its investment attractiveness. Finally, for the Valley of Death concerns, the government can build a mechanism where funding can be provided for select innovative ideas based on their national importance. Only such action-oriented steps can make biotechnology the next success story of the Indian economy. (IANS)