By N. Niranjan Nikam
SOM: You are the first scientist from Mysuru, who is chosen as the General President-Elect of 106th Indian Science Congress Association (ISCA) to be held at Lovely Professional University in Jalandhar and you will take over as the General President of 107th ISCA during the Science Congress in January 2019. How does this responsibility feel?
Prof. K.S. Rangappa: I am proud to be elected General President of ISCA as the first Mysurean, especially coming from a city where the Maharajas ruled and the first University in the Princely State was set up by Nalwadi Krishnaraja Wadiyar in the entire country. And to be heading the Indian Science Congress, I am really humbled.
Scientifically it is a major responsibility. I have to get the topmost academicians and researchers in the forum which means those who are top scientists in the world in different disciplines and to get all of them is a major task. Nearly, 15,000 to 20,000 participants are expected and we have to tell all of them the kind of practice the scientific community is involved in. After all, Science Congress is a collection of scientists, where students, researchers, faculties irrespective of government or private organisations, including Nobel Laureates who will all definitely deliver the goods.
SOM: Some of the finest intellects and greatest scientists right from the first ISCA held in Calcutta in 1914 when Ashutosh Mukherjee was the General President, to the likes of J.C. Bose, C.V. Raman, Jawaharlal Nehru, C.N.R. Rao have held this prestigious post. You are joining their ilk. Do you feel that you have risen to such a level as a scientist to hold this post?
Prof. Rangappa: (With a wry smile) Otherwise they would not have elected me for the post. You know I will show you the emails sent by M.S. Swaminathan, Ashish Datta, Govardhan Mehta and many others of that calibre who by looking at my credentials and records said I must deserve this position. I am holding ten patents and published more than 500 scientific papers being in this University and more than 300 to 400 collaborators have worked with me in ten different countries and all these are facts. I have also published papers in the top journals in the world.
SOM: It is said that it is mostly scientists from East and North who are given the honour of the General President. How did you manage to break the mould?
Prof. Rangappa: I was given R.C. Shaw Memorial Award when I was a Reader in 1992. I did not know Indian Science Congress then and based on my publication they had given me the award in Chennai. Since then I am the permanent member of ISCA and have always involved in all its activities.
SOM: As the General President-Elect have you already made plans for your term to see what direction the Science in India takes? For instance the theme for 106th Congress is ‘Future India – Science and Technology.’ Have you already thought of a theme?
Prof. Rangappa: I am the General President-Elect now, I will be the General President in 2020 and the Past General President for another year. Hence, for three years I have a very active role to play. I have not thought of the theme as yet but there are several possibilities. It should be unique where the whole world works for Science keeping the present scenario of Science in mind; I am evolving my own theme. See the context 100 years back, 75 years or 50 years back was totally different. But now there is an entirely different scenario with competitive countries like China, Korea, Japan and Europe who have world class scientists. Also I am thinking of involving SAARC (South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation) countries’ scientists. Still I have time and am working in that direction.
SOM: Where is the 107th ISCA going to be held in 2020 when you are the General President?
Prof. Rangappa: I have five invitations already on hand. One is University of Patna, Bihar; Agriculture University of Telangana; GKVK in Bengaluru as also Jain University and Dayanand Sagar Institutions. I consulted the Chief Minister of Karnataka H.D. Kumaraswamy and he is extremely happy to hold the 107th Indian Science Congress in Bengaluru.
SOM: You have claimed that your team of scientists as also your counterparts in China has come up with a wonder drug to treat all types of cancer. Is this true?
Prof. Rangappa: It is, otherwise this scientific paper would not have been published in the world’s prestigious journal like PNAS (Proceedings of National Academy of Sciences) and that is where Nobel Laureates get published. Only 100 per cent true and new discoveries are published here. Luckily or unluckily I do not know, one of the molecules N-cyclopentyl-3-((4-(2,3-dichlorophenyl) piperazin-1-yl) (2-hydroxyphenyl)methyl) benzamide (NPB) synthesised in my laboratory turned out to be the best.
Let me put it this way, we will go to ten doctors and out of them one gave a medicine from which we recovered while nine others’ failed. That is how it happened. In 40 years of my research, synthesising more than 6,000 molecules, this was one of the molecules that turned to be the best. Therefore, we have proved this efficacy in the animal examinations. Next step is the clinical trials.
For clinical trials China has come forward because one of the Chinese who worked in Singapore was my collaborator. They immediately jumped and offered a solution that they are going to invest money on the clinical trials of my molecules. Out of my ten patents, three are involved in the clinical trials. This group of my students and myself and the other counterpart from National Institute of Singapore designed the experiment and luckily the drug candidate worked very well.
SOM: This doubt arises because in spite of so much of research going on in the best laboratories in the world , how can a small team of scientists in University of Mysore achieve this breakthrough?
Prof. Rangappa: If you look at the history of Nobel Laureates, many of them were dirt poor or working in remote places, this is nothing. Archimedes’ principle was so emergent that by him just getting into the bathtub it emerged. Nobody bothered about his laboratory and other things those days. So to invent something it need not be in the sky, anywhere it can happen. Today, we do not know where the talent lies. If today the molecule is proved, I do not need any certificate from any high quality laboratory as my result and my investigations are the same. Chemistry or Science is same whether you are rich or poor or anything else.
SOM: In nearly 35 years as a scientist doing research in Chemistry you have 10 patents to your credit. How many of those are utility patents? Has it ever resulted in any new drug production?
Prof. Rangappa: We have ten and we have applied for the 11th one now. None of them have yet resulted in drug production. Not yet. This is the first. I told you China is interested. See, it is very difficult as the whole world is working on these things. Not even one drug has come out to attack all types of cancer.
As far as patents are concerned we had applied for it. I discovered a molecule that worked on the animal and it has proved excellent. You cannot steal my molecule and do something else. For example, if I publish about this molecule you can simply grab it and put to clinical trial straight away. Now you cannot do it because it is my property and I have patented it. Just to protect my property we make patents.
SOM: That means all these ten patents are related to cancer?
Prof. Rangappa: Yes, all are related to cancer only. But they are different, different molecules like for cervical cancer, breast cancer and brain tumour. Only the latest one is unique while all others are for specific cancer which we have targeted. The tenth one is the unique one which is giving response. For instance, in Jawaharlal Nehru Centre for Advanced Scientific Research they are working on a molecule which works only for cervical cancer, whereas this molecule which has recently come out kills all types of cancers. The two unique properties of this molecule are that it responds to all types of cancers but does not touch the normal cells. Because of this uniqueness only it was published in the leading journal.
SOM: You lost the 2018 Assembly elections. Do you regret that as a former Vice-Chancellor you fought this battle and it would have been better if you had stayed away from politics?
Prof. Rangappa: Not really, because I wanted to have experience in this field also and that was my intention. After retirement, I thought I could do better things and politics is also one of the options where I could contribute, but it did not happen probably because of the kind of politics that is going on in the country.
I have no regret but do feel bad. Only after entering electoral politics I realised what kind of people are there where we could do good work or not. And I was able to gain this kind of experience at close quarters. I realised it is very difficult to change the mindset of the people. But had I been elected I would have contributed in the field of education or IT, BT, Science and Technology.
SOM: In spite of your defeat, a few people still say you are the backroom man running the Higher Education Department.
Prof. Rangappa: Not really or necessarily. Whenever Higher Education Minister G.T. Devegowda asks me, I give good suggestions that is why people say that. Even Chief Minister Kumaraswamy knows my depth in higher education. Hence, he wanted me to be there. But unfortunately or fortunately people did not elect me. Therefore, I have kept aloof, because people will start questioning me as to why this fellow pokes his nose. I don’t want to give room for such talks.