One of India’s most famous and respected leaders paid a visit to the Triangle Monday to initiate what could be a long-lasting and beneficial relationship between two of the world’s fasting-growing biotechnology corridors.

Chandrababu Naidu, Chief Minister of Andhra Pradesh, India’s fifth largest province, yet one of its most economically and technologically advanced, spent the day visiting companies such as IBM, GSK and Biotechnology International (BTI) in the Research Triangle Park before attending a dinner meeting of the Indian community at the Hindu Bhavan. Naidu, on a two-week tour that recently took him to the World Economic Forum in New York, where he met with former President Clinton and Microsoft’s Bill Gates, was well-received by the Triangle’s growing Indian community. Nearly 1,000 members attended the event hosted by the Triangle Area Telugu Association.

As the chief minister made his entry, a mob of Indian diplomats and admiring well-wishers surrounded him, some shouting praises. Naidu maintained his composure with his humble yet imposing presence as he did his best to accommodate those who wanted to meet him.

When Naidu, in a cream-colored, Nelson Mandela-like suit, finally made his way to the stage, he thanked the local Indian community for its support and then stated his reason for the visit.

“I came here to have a discussion about the biotechnology industry, which is doing very well here,” he said. Naidu also called the Triangle an “intellectual community.”

Working together in biotechnology

Naidu said earlier in the day he was at the N.C. Biotechnology Center (NCBC), where he signed an agreement with the state of North Carolina, represented by Secretary of Commerce James Fain. NCBC President Charles Hamner also signed the agreement…a joint declaration to co-operate in the field of biotechnology.

Another signing took place between Mohan Hingorani, chairman of Shapoorji Pallonji Biotech Park (SPBP) in Hyderabad, the capital of Andhra Pradesh, and Chacko P. Verghese, managing director of BTI, a consulting firm in RTP that brings together U.S. and Indian biotech and pharmaceutical companies.

“We will license products from here to Indian partners,” Verghese said of the agreement. “Small companies in the U.S. will get Indian companies to help market their drugs, such as those for typhoid and cholera.”

A biotech “Silicon Valley?”

When asked why he chose to visit the Triangle, Naidu replied: “There is a strong biotechnology base here,” referring to such institutions as the NCBC and BTI. A recent survey by Ernst & Young cites RTP and North Carolina has having the fifth largest concentration of biotech and life-science related companies in the U.S.

It is because of this base, said Verghese, that Naidu came here instead of one of the other biotech corridors.

Such an endorsement puts the Triangle and its research park well on the way to becoming the “Silicon Valley” of biotech, according to Vivek Wadhwa, CEO of Relativity Technologies and president of The IndUS Entrepreneurs (TiE) Carolinas.

“Naidu was focused on IT industry, and now he’s focusing on biotech,” Wadhwa said. “He’s coming to North Carolina, which is an important thing…there are no established biotech centers anywhere in the U.S, and he is targeting North Carolina. This is significant for the RTP, because when you’re on the outside looking in, the area is coming up very high on the list.”

‘Indians like the U.S.’

Wadhwa said while it will take more than this partnership with India to seal RTP’s success in biotechnology, there are several other advantages to working with the world’s second most populous nation, with over one billion people.

“They have a good and educated English-speaking work force at a cheap cost for everything,” Wadhwa said. “Plus, the people like working with the West, which is becoming an increasingly important issue…when they don’t like you…and Indians like the U.S.”

Additionally, India has a relatively skilled populous in the areas of IT and now biotech. The IT industry there has long been established and biotechnology is becoming more prevalent, with such assets as Hitec City, the SPBP and Genome Valley near Hyderabad, all of which were influenced, in part, by the same concept used in developing RTP.

The established, yet still growing technology sector in India, and particularly Andhra Pradesh, can be attributed almost solely to the visionary Naidu, many people have said. Wadhwa likens Naidu to Al Gore and his “invention” of the Internet in America – except Naidu’s could stake a legitimate claim to India’s achievement.

Despite his extensive popularity, Naidu has chosen to remain in Andhra Pradesh and lead by example, rather than pursue a more illustrious post, such as prime minister. But his role there, nevertheless, is important, as was recently pointed out by The New York Times.

“As India’s states become increasingly important in the drive for the economic growth that is needed to pull hundreds of millions of Indians out of poverty,” The Times Said, “state leaders like Naidu are at the vanguard of an effort to modernize local economies and integrate them into the global marketplace.”