Researchers and bio-technology firms across the world are engaged in developing a vaccine and effective treatment for coronavirus disease (COVID-19), which has globally affected over 81,000 people and led to over 2,700 deaths. According to the World Health Organisation, outside China, there are 2,918 cases and 44 deaths across 37 countries. At the Coalition of Epidemic Preparedness Innovations (CEPI), Vice-Chair Dr. Gagandeep Kang, who is also the first woman from India to be elected a Fellow of the Royal Society, tells The Indian Express in an interview that developing a vaccine against COVID-19 will take time.
What is CEPI and what efforts are being taken to deal with this rapidly-spreading COVID-19?
Coalition of Epidemic Preparedness Innovations is a global collaboration between public, private, philanthropic and civil society organisations to develop vaccines for infectious disease epidemics. The Department of Biotechnology, under the government of India, is a founding member of CEPI, along with the government of Norway, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, the Wellcome Trust and the World Economic Forum. CEPI is supporting funding for developmental work on four vaccine candidates — one from University of Queensland and three from biopharma companies.
What is the status of developmental work on vaccine candidates?
Researchers at the University of Queensland have a vaccine candidate based on their molecular clamp technology that is going to go into trial manufacturing. This is likely not to be the final formulation, but will test production systems. Two efforts supported by CEPI are already ready with their first candidates for pilot testing, but a very tiny fraction of vaccine candidates ultimately succeed, so we need many more efforts to be made.
How long will it to take to develop a vaccine against COVID-19?
Vaccine-testing needs multiple safety and efficacy tests in animals and humans before it can be licensed and used. Two vaccine candidates (from the University of Queensland and from Moderna) have already been developed and will be taken forward but all the planning, permissions and testing will take time.
DBT is supporting an effort to expand diagnostics and we have linked with the US-based Centre for Disease Control and National Institutes of Health in order to access the virus and other reagents that will be needed.
COVID-19 disease is rapidly spreading outside China. What efforts does India need to take in the event of an outbreak?
We are not at a stage where we can predict what will happen, but we must be aware that no other country will be able to put in place the kind of restrictions that were in place in China. Measures like preparing the people and the health system are important.
Anything that you have planned for and prepared for becomes easier to handle. For people, we should be thinking about what our contingency plan is if we get sick or someone in our family becomes sick. How will we handle it? Remember that most people (80%) will have a mild illness — all that is required is staying home from work, preventing infection in the household by hand-washing, cough hygiene etc. 20 per cent of people will need help, which doctor and which hospital(s) will you go to?
Who in the family is available to care for someone who is sick? Is ready access to financial resources required? Predicting requirements is the first step to mitigation.
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