Dr M K Bhan
Hailing him as the “strong pillar” on which the Department of Biotechnology (DBT) stood today, secretary Dr Renu Swarup said noted paediatrician and former DBT secretary Dr M K Bhan, who died on January 26, changed the landscape of the biotechnology sector and was among those scientists who had been able to fulfil the dream of introducing a rotavirus vaccine, now part of the universal immunisation programme. Swarup worked closely with Dr Bhan for over a decade.
Dr Bhan pioneered the first indigenously developed rotavirus vaccine and the highest tribute to him would be to take forward his legacy, Dr Swarup said, adding that he was a visionary and his death had left a void that will never get filled.
The rotavirus vaccine was developed from scratch and the government introduced it in the public health programme from 2016.
“Generous and passionate about building up young people, Dr Bhan was fiercely committed to our country and its science, but gentle in his approach to individuals and rigorous in his approach to institutions. Dr Bhan was unique and special,” Prof Gagandeep Kang, executive director of Translational Health Science and Technology Institute, Faridabad, told The Indian Express.
Prof Chittaranjan Yajnik, noted diabetologist and director of the diabetes unit at KEM hospital in Pune said his death was a massive loss to Indian science. “His legacy will guide us in solving problems,” said Prof Yajnik, who was his close friend.
Prof Yajnik added that he was a visionary scientist who handled science, its translation and management seamlessly. Dr Bhan was instrumental in promoting new biotechnology institutes in different parts of the country and involving scientists of multiple specialties to interact with each other under the umbrella of biotechnology.
“We are now observing the fruits of this approach. He was instrumental in setting up the vaccine field trial unit at KEM hospital, which has contributed significantly to rotavirus research and related studies,” Prof Yajnik said.
“Dr Bhan was my mentor; as a young trainee gastroenterologist visiting AIIMS, he inspired us to inculcate a systematic approach to clinical problems and as a teacher of epidemiology he shared his belief that public health research was the need of the hour,” said Dr Ashish Bawdekar, consultant paediatric gastroenterologist at KEM hospital.
Dr Bawdekar further talked of his close involvement with Dr Bhan, who was the DBT secretary during the development of the Indian rotavirus vaccine.
“He was extremely nationalistic and felt Indian scientists were as good as others in the world and would not accept any interference from foreign funders. It was unbelievable what he could foresee and then, more importantly, do something about it,” he said.
Dr Sanjay Juvekar, head of the Vadu Rural Health Programme said their team will cherish the experience shared with Dr Bhan on the rotavirus vaccine research,
“He was in favour of translational research that could yield results with immediate benefits to the public. Apart from his immense contribution towards the indigenous rotavirus vaccine, he was also instrumental in the identification of zinc deficiency as the cause behind several abnormalities observed in children,” said Dr Manoj Kumar Bhat, director of National Centre for Cell Science (NCCS).
Senior scientist at NCCS, Dr Yogesh Shouche, said during his tenure, Dr Bhan came up with several new initiatives not only in health but also in other sectors like agriculture and food processing.