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Interview: Creating a new world
12 March 2009
Mukund Chorghade speaks to Elinor Richards about his fascination with natural products and their role in India's future
|Mukund Chorghade is President of Chorghade Enterprises and Chief Scientific Officer at THINQ (Technology, Health, Innovation, Novelty and Quality) Pharma, where he provides consultations to pharmaceutical companies on collaborations with academic, government and industrial laboratories. He is also a member of the IUPAC Chemistry and Human Health division.|
What inspired you to become a chemist?
My father bought me a book called Chemistry Creates a New World by Bernard Jaffe when I was a teenager. It opened my eyes to all the wonderful things that chemistry can do. I read it from cover to cover in a day and I was spellbound by a chapter on new pharmaceuticals. I decided that this was what I was going to study, much to the dismay of my father, who wanted me to be a physicist.
When did your interest in natural products begin?
What projects are you currently involved in?
At THINQ (Technology, Health, Innovation, Novelty and Quality) Pharma, we define new scalable process routes to new chemical entities. Someone could approach us with a medicinal chemistry route and ask us to make it more efficient, or to find different routes. Our goal is to make the drug better, faster and cheaper. We develop these routes and transfer the technology to larger manufacturers. We are also involved in contract medicinal chemistry where we synthesise compounds and analogues; we aim to do the drug discovery work ourselves using collaborations we have established with academics.
One goal is to work on hybrid molecules; for example, the antimalarial drug Artemisinin, which when bonded with another drug, gives you a product that can be used in oncology.
What was your proudest moment?
In my industrial career, I was involved in the discovery of new processes, in particular a route to an antiepileptic drug called Tiagabine, which is now sold as Gabitril. My grandmother had suffered from epilepsy so it gives me a lot of pleasure to see a prescription filled using these particular antiepileptics. I also had the good fortune to develop a new technique called metalloporphyrin-assisted synthesis of drug metabolites that was useful in identifying drug metabolites and preparing them on a good scale. The technique, a predictive tool, could lead to a reduction in the use of animals for testing.
You are president of Chorghade Enterprises. Why was the company established and what is its role?
I set up this consulting company after my industrial tenure at Dow Chemicals and Abbott Laboratories in the US. At that point, there was a need to effect strategic collaborations between US and European pharma companies and their Indian counterparts. What started with process chemistry and manufacturing has expanded into medicinal and clinical chemistry.
You are also Chief Scientific Officer at THINQ Pharma. What are the aims of this company?
THINQ Pharma is a relatively new establishment that aims to inject new thinking in medicinal chemistry into the pharmaceutical enterprises. We are very privileged to have several outstanding Indian, European and North American academics and industry professionals on our scientific advisory board.
What is your involvement with IUPAC?
As a member of IUPAC's Chemistry and Human Health division, I have carried out some successful projects. These include compiling new glossaries of terms used in process chemistry and pharmaceutics and producing a report on the use of natural products in traditional medicines in India and China.
What is the situation for the pharma industry in India?
Drug discovery as a science is in its infancy, but is a rapidly growing area. Historically, the World Trade Organisation approved deals to allow poorer nations to import generic medicines manufactured in India and China, overriding international patents. Recent changes in the patent laws resulted in increased impetus for Indian pharmaceutical companies to invent new drugs. The government in India has been extraordinarily supportive of such ventures. There are a lot of new initiatives and some pharmaceutical companies have begun the research. As yet, there is no Indian drug on the market but I'm very optimistic.
Do academia and industry collaborate successfully in India?
In India, there can be a gulf between the academic and industrial worlds. Some very good work from industry using state of the art techniques doesn't see the light of day because of patent and confidentiality issues. Another problem is the lack of industrial scientists delivering lectures in symposia. Industry and academia need to be encouraged to collaborate more in order to obtain research funding. We have unique systems in India, where a lot of PhD work is done in very good institutions like the National Chemical Laboratory in Pune and the Institute of Chemical Technology in Hyderabad; these institutions do not grant their own degrees - there's a symbiotic relationship with universities.
Could you tell me more about the National Chemical Laboratory (NCL)?
The NCL is a constituent laboratory of the Council of Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR), an umbrella organisation, covering 40 national laboratories. Nine or ten of these cater to the chemistry enterprise. The CSIR employs about 23,000 professional scientists. A large number of students elect to pursue PhDs at the NCL; it has become an outstanding institution for promotion of higher learning because many of the full time scientists are distinguished people in their own right. They work across the borders of pure academic work as well as industrial collaborations. I have the highest regard for them and I've published papers with some of the scientists there.
What is funding like in India?
How do you see the future of chemistry developing?
I'm a tremendous supporter of chemistry, and not just because I am a chemist. I feel that chemistry is still the central science. Sometimes there are new trends and some might say that the computer can solve all your problems, or that biology can solve all the problems. That is not the case. Chemistry, biology and all these other disciplines need to work synergistically with each other. I would not downplay the importance of chemistry.
What's your advice for young scientists?
Follow your heart. Do what you are interested in doing and don't be swayed by short-term trends. Have a basic honesty and integrity in your work. Do not do something for the sake of awards, do it because you love the basic science. Then the awards will come.
If you weren't a scientist, what would you be?
My second choice would have been to join the diplomatic service. I dreamt of joining the Indian civil service, in particular the foreign service because to me, developing good international relationships is very important. I'm happy to say that in a modest way I am an international ambassador for Indian science and chemistry. There is a joy in meeting talented people from a variety of scientific, cultural and ethnic backgrounds. We are all in this together.
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