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Karnataka: IISc’s Covid vaccine testing facility in Bengaluru first to be supported by BIRAC in south India

According to the Indian Institute of Science, several solutions to tackle the pandemic ranging from vaccines and antivirals to materials and equipment will be tested with the help of academic and industry partners.

Written by Ralph Alex Arakal | Bengaluru |
Updated: July 1, 2021 8:52:33 am
IISc BangaloreIISc Bangalore (file photo)

A Covid-19 vaccine testing centre that was recently established in Bengaluru is the first of its kind in south India to get approval and funding by the Biotechnology Industry Research Assistance Council under the Department of Biotechnology (DBT-BIRAC) and it is expected to enhance India’s testing capabilities.

According to the Indian Institute of Science (IISc) in Bengaluru which houses the viral Bio-Safety Level-3 (BSL-3) facility at the Centre for Infectious Disease Research (CIDR), several solutions to tackle the pandemic ranging from vaccines and antivirals to materials and equipment will be tested with the help of academic and industry partners.

Shashank Tripathi, assistant professor at the institute’s department of microbiology and cell biology, told The Indian Express that the lab was identified among the three pioneering efforts to support research on highly pathogenic human viruses. “Our lab had applied for and received funding under the DBT-BIRAC’s Mission Covid Suraksha, which aimed to support labs with well-established models to study SARS-CoV-2,” he said.

The other two labs that were identified under the same umbrella by DBT-BIRAC are at Translational Health Science and Technology Institute (THSTI) in Faridabad and the Institute of Life Sciences (ILS) in Bhubaneswar.

He added that the funding would enable the augmentation of the existing facility with high-end equipment and initial support for personnel operating the facility. “We have been allowed to hire up to ten people in total to work in this facility where research is also underway to develop high-throughput assays for evaluating antivirals and vaccines against coronavirus,” Tripathi, who is also designated as the nodal person in charge of the facility, explained.

The dedicated viral BSL-3 facility at CIDR in IISc became operational in January 2021 after its construction was completed in October 2020. It was then made available to academic labs, within and outside IISc, and the industry, for training personnel and carrying out antiviral research.

Researchers added that the team began working on establishing cell culture and animal models to study SARS-CoV-2 in the viral BSL-3 facility on priority from February. “This included isolation, growth, and characterisation of SARS-CoV-2 viruses from Covid-19 patient samples and the establishment of a Syrian hamster model for evaluating Covid-19 vaccines and antivirals,” the team stated.

Further, the institute highlighted that these reagents and models were used to identify antivirals to coronavirus. A Covid-19 thermostable subunit vaccine candidate being developed by a team led by Raghavan Varadarajan, professor at the Molecular Biophysics Unit at the institute, in collaboration with an IISc-incubated startup named Mynvax was also evaluated in the lab. “In addition, Tripathi’s lab has been helping industry partners GeNext Genomics in evaluating Covid-19 antibodies, Biomoneta in testing sterilisation technologies, and Glycovax in evaluating a COVID-19 peptide conjugate vaccine in animal models,” an IISc statement read.

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