Reverse brain drain and the Indian biotech “niche”

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For the past few years, we have received significantly more resumes from native Indian post-doctoral fellows from the US, searching for opportunities in India, which tickled me to explore the phenomenon of “reverse-brain-drain” in India and the biotech field. This phenomenon became popular after the dot-com bubble crisis, which forced many IT professionals from Silicon Valley to return to India.

In my opinion, China has gained a lot with the reverse brain drain phenomenon in biotech, as evident by the number of publications in high impact journals. The “knowledge-hub” creation-oriented governmental policies could be a major contributor.

However, the situation in India is not that encouraging. If India Inc. wants to be successful in achieving gains from a reverse brain drain in biotech, it should create an environment that is conducive for those talented individuals to come back, perform their best, contribute and remain.

Bringing back post-docs and putting them under the “old-time” systems with “red-tape” protocols will kill the spirits of those aspirants who want to do big things back home. I compare this to an in vitro cell culture system where we grow the cells taken from an in vivo environment. Though physiologically the environment or niche is different, we try our best to create the physiologically closest niche in vitro so that the cells will grow outside the body.

Similarly, rather than only bringing those post-docs (the cells) back, we should try to create systems (the niche) like those in developed nations. Some components of the niche could be:

  • Creating performance-based incentives and promotions
  • Maintaining confidentiality of proposals submitted through a single window to all funding agencies to prevent plagiarism
  • Allowing principal investigators to retain intellectual property rights
  • Being open to their entrepreneurship initiatives by establishing appropriate transparent systems
  • Allowing senior faculty from laboratories of accomplished nations to contribute to research projects in India.
  • The hope is that these elements would bring out the best from those talented individuals transplanted back home.

Samuel JK Abraham