Union Minister of Health and Family Welfare, Dr Harsh Vardhan Tuesday said India would become self-sufficient in rapid testing and anti-body kits by the end of May due to the work of various science agencies and scientists in the country. The minister was reviewing various initiatives undertaken by the Department of Biotechnology (DBT) and its Autonomous Institutes (AIs) and its Public Sector Undertakings (PSUs) – BIRAC and BIBCOL, to tackle the current Covid-19 crisis especially with respect to progress made in indigenous development of vaccines, rapid tests and RT-PCR diagnostic kits.
Secretary, DBT, Dr Renu Swarup informed the minister that the DBT had evolved a multi-pronged research strategy and action plan for immediate response as well as for long-term preparedness to tackle Covid-19. These multifaceted efforts include research towards development of candidate vaccines, therapeutics, and suitable animal models for Covid-19, as well as development of indigenous diagnostics and genomic studies on the host and pathogen. The DBT and its PSU, Biotechnology Industry Research Assistance Council (BIRAC) announced a Covid-19 Research Consortium Call to support Diagnostics, Vaccines, Novel Therapeutics, Repurposing of Drugs or any other intervention for control of the coronavirus.
During interaction with DBT scientists, Vardhan was informed about various computational methods being developed by DBT labs/AIs to predict potential antiviral drug molecules. In another strategy, surrogates of the virus are being developed representing one or more critical steps in virus lifecycle and inhibitors are being tested. Work is in progress to isolate neutralizing antibodies either from the patients recovered from Covid-19 or from human antibody libraries. Also, DBT is working on development of candidate vaccines which are at various stages of pre-clinical studies with an overall aim to demonstrate the proof of concept and immunogenicity and safety evaluation prior to clinical testing.
At the moment, at least nine of these studies are in early stages and one delivery and adjuvant system for improving the immunogenicity of candidate vaccine is at the advanced stage of development.
“The sincere efforts of DBT scientists will enable the country to be self-reliant in production of RT-PCR and antibody test kits by the end of next month. This will make it possible to meet the target of conducting one lakh tests per day by the end of next month. Out of at least half a dozen candidates supported for vaccines, four are in an advanced stage and regulatory platform at one place has been constituted for speedy clearances”, said Vardhan.
He also appreciated the BIRAC efforts in supporting over 150 startup solutions of which over 20 are ready for deployment. He also released a hand sanitizer developed by another PSU of DBT, Bharat Immunologicals and Biologicals Corporation Ltd. (BIBCOL), which is engaged in manufacturing of various biological, pharmaceutical and food products. It currently is manufacturing formulations of Vitamin C and Zinc tablets to contribute towards the solutions for Covid-19. “A contribution of Rupee One towards commercial sale of each single bottle of this sanitizer will go to PMCARES Fund”, Vardhan said.
Swarup, senior officials, directors of DBT-AIs, senior scientists and senior officials from BIRAC and BIBCOL participated in the meeting.