Dr Gagandeep Kang, one of India’s most eminent medical scientists who played a critical role in the development of the indigenous rotavirus vaccine, has unexpectedly resigned as executive director of the Translational Health Sciences and Technology Institute (THSTI), the prestigious Faridabad-based public health research institute under the Ministry of Science and Technology’s Department of Biotechnology.
The resignation of Prof Kang, the first Indian woman scientist to be elected Fellow of the Royal Society (FRS), London, came around two months after a committee to look into indigenous Covid-19 drugs and vaccines that she headed, was disbanded.
Dr Kang said on Monday that she had resigned due to personal reasons. A professor in the Department of Gastrointestinal Sciences at Christian Medical College (CMC) Vellore, she had been on lien to THSTI since 2016, and had another year to go in her tenure.
In recent months, Dr Kang was closely involved in work related to testing for the novel coronavirus. Her resignation comes as India fights a grim battle against the virus — and just a day after it surpassed Russia as the country with the world’s third heaviest caseload of Covid-19.
In April, THSTI was allowed to test for Covid-19 as an extension of Faridabad’s ESIC Medical College and Hospital. Under Dr Kang’s guidance, researchers at the institute had been working to develop antigen tests to check for SARS-CoV-2 more efficiently.
The panel on Covid-19 drugs and vaccines that she was chairing had met a few times before it was “shut down” in May, a member of the erstwhile panel told The Indian Express. Another member said the Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR) had found an overlap in the work allocated to the panel and that of other committees. Both scientists spoke on condition of anonymity.
When contacted on Monday, Dr Kang said the disbanding of this committee had “nothing” to do with her resignation.
“I have resigned. I am planning to leave next month. I could have gone back last year. I didn’t. Now I’d like to go home, because I want to be home in Vellore,” she told The Indian Express.
“I haven’t decided the date yet. I’m trying to make sure that it’s a really smooth transition,” she said.
Dr Kang’s tenure at THSTI was until August 2021, Dr Siuli Mitra, Professional Expert (Science Communication and PR) at the institute, said.
Besides her contribution to the development of India’s rotavirus vaccine, Dr Kang is known for her work on the development and use of vaccines for cholera and typhoid, and for conducting large studies to define burden, test vaccines, and measure their impact.
She has served on the scientific advisory panels of national and international institutions like the World Health Organisation (WHO), Wellcome Trust, International Vaccine Institute, and the International Centre for Genetic Engineering and Biotechnology. She is currently also Vice-Chair of the Board of the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations (CEPI), a Norwegian association focussed on stimulating and accelerating the development of vaccines against emerging infectious diseases.