Asserting that fight against Covid-19 would be won through vaccine and drugs, the government’s principal scientific adviser on Thursday said 30 groups in India were trying to develop a vaccine out of which 20 were making fast progress.
Addressing a media briefing, Dr K Vijayraghavan, who is also the co-chair of the Covid-19 task force on scientific development, however, said no Indian companies or collaborations were in the clinical trial stage for vaccines yet.
“There are about 30 groups in India, big industry to individual academics, are trying got develop a vaccine. Some companies are in late pre-clinical stage,” Vijayraghavan said.
Vijayraghavan said four categories of vaccines — mRNA, attenuated, inactivated, adjuvant — were being developed presently even as the number of cases i the country climbed to 1,58,333, including 4,531 deaths.
“Because we have to do it in one year, the world is investing in over a 100 vaccines. The entire process will cost 2-3 billion dollars. Vaccine is not a switch that it will be available to everyone from Day 1. In this disease, everybody will need it. So access is a big challenge,” he said.
The WHO has listed Serum Institute of India, Zydus Cadila, Indian Immunologicals Limited and Bharat Biotech from India among the firms involved in developing a vaccine.
With scientists and researchers racing against time to find a cure for the novel coronavirus, there are over 100 vaccines being developed across the world now, some from scratch, some from existing molecules developed for other diseases. So far, US biotechnology company Moderna Inc and China’s Cansino Biologics Inc have reported successful results in human trials.
Pointing out that no change in the fundamental properties of the virus had been noticed till now, Vijayraghavan said designing new drugs to combat Covid-19 was a big challenge.
“A drug designed to attack the virus has to attack only its unique parts so that it doesn’t start affecting our body cells. Remdesivir works on virus replication, there are other drugs that change the pH of the cell,” he said.
Recently, a trial funded by the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID) in the United States found that antiviral drug remdesivir could speed up recovery in Covid-19 patients requiring oxygen therapy.
Remdesivir, manufactured by the biopharma company Gilead Sciences Inc, has been previously tested in humans with Ebola virus disease, and has shown promise as a drug against Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS) and Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS), both of which, like Covid-19, are caused by coronaviruses.
Vijayraghavan also announced that CSIR and AICTE had started a high-end hackathon where students were being trained in drug designing. “This is a high-end hackathon where students are trained with information on how to do computational drug discovery,” he said.
The scientific adviser to the government also said in the next few months, Covid-19 tests would be available, both nationally and internationally, that could be done on an individual.
“RT-PCR tests for virus genetic material. Now, a second test is in the offing to check for virus particles. There are variations of RT-PCR, IIT-Delhi developed one,” he said.
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