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Home / Analysis / The key role of CSIR in the battle against Covid | Opinion

The key role of CSIR in the battle against Covid | Opinion

From bringing in self-reliance ranging from indelible ink to the fight against Covid-19, CSIR has played a vital role and shall do so in any future pandemic or calamity that India faces.

analysis Updated: Sep 25, 2020, 19:06 IST
Shekhar C Mande
Shekhar C Mande
All these highly-visible developments now set the stage for the next wave of innovations, which promise to catapult India into the league of the most developed nations
All these highly-visible developments now set the stage for the next wave of innovations, which promise to catapult India into the league of the most developed nations(Keshav Singh/Hindustan Times)

The Council of Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR), one of the first publicly-funded Science & Technology (S&T) research organisations in India, turns 79 today. CSIR has played a crucial role in shaping the developments of modern Indian society, and the Covid-19 pandemic is no exception. As India is seeing an accelerated increase in cases, there is an urgent need for innovations and products in drugs, diagnostics, surveillance and devices.

In March, CSIR identified the unmet needs, assessed its strengths and capabilities for addressing the pandemic and adopted a multi-pronged strategy of working on diagnostics, surveillance, drugs, hospital assistive devices, personal protective equipment and supply chain and logistics. This strategy is now beginning to yield exciting solutions.

A few days ago, the Drugs Controller General of India (DCGI) formally approved the first indigenously-developed Clustered Regularly Interspaced Short Palindromic Repeats (CRISPR)/Cas9-based paper diagnostic test. Such a test puts the achievements of Indian innovators on the world map, as it has a resemblance to the similar tests in the United States (US), and yet has its own unique features that make it simpler to use.

Similarly, the generic pharma industry might recollect the years when CSIR laboratories provided cheaper synthesis methods for drugs, as it has done during the current Covid-19 pandemic for remdesivir and favipiravir. Another bit of history might be in the offing as the first-ever Phase-2 clinical trials on a phytopharmaceutical drug candidate has begun after DCGI approval. Likewise, the immunotherapeutic drug, sepsivac has successfully completed Phase-2 trials on critically ill Covid-19 patients, and is now entering Phase-3 trials. CSIR is also working in collaboration with leading pharmaceutical industries for multiple-combination clinical trials in the country.

With its engineering strengths, CSIR has been able to make devices like ventilators in record time, which are positioned to receive regulatory approval soon. CSIR-promoted technology in making rapidly deployable hospitals will also be implemented in the coming weeks.

All these highly-visible developments now set the stage for the next wave of innovations, which promise to catapult India into the league of the most developed nations.

The development of technologies against Sars-CoV-2, within a short time period, has been possible only due to the existing scientific strengths and infrastructure created within the CSIR ecosystem over the past several decades. It is interesting to note that among the many countries that became independent of colonial rule in the middle of the last century, India alone adopted a strong S&T policy — later even including it in its Constitution, a strategy that has yielded rich dividends. CSIR being one of the earliest S&T institutions in the country has played a major role in implementing S&T strategies for the development of the country.

Ever since its inception in 1942, CSIR has carried out the pursuit of fundamental science at one end of the S&T canvas, and translated it for societal connect at the other. These distinct-yet-connected aspects demanded that CSIR develop a strong interface with industry and help promote innovations in S&T. The entire spectrum of activities of CSIR, between these two extremes, over the last 78 years, has been fascinating to watch.

The implementation of these required establishing strong S&T infrastructure, promoting scientific entrepreneurship, development of programmes for industrial progress through S&T solutions, and bringing the benefits to society. The recent contributions of CSIR towards Covid-19 mitigation in a short span of a few months exemplify the support that the organisation has provided over the years.

The industrial and societal connect of CSIR has seen many technologies being adopted at such a large scale that these often get masked by the fact that they once were developed in its laboratories.

For example, the technology to make parboiled rice, widely used in many states, was developed at CSIR-Central Food Technological Research Institute (CFTRI), Mysuru. India became one of the top countries worldwide in the production of Mentha, thanks to the pioneering efforts carried out at CSIR-Indian Institute of Integrative Medicine (IIIM), Jammu. The rise of the generic pharmaceutical industry and the goal of making many drugs affordable were facilitated by efforts at CSIR-National Chemical Laboratory (NCL), Pune and CSIR-Indian Institute of Chemical Technology (IICT), Hyderabad. Yet another illustrative example is how the strong infrastructure like the wind tunnel in CSIR-National Aerospace Laboratories (NAL) at Bengaluru was critical in deploying many strategic programmes in space and defence sectors.

On the occasion of the 79th CSIR Foundation Day, it is worth recalling that the industrial connect has been in the CSIR genes from the beginning. Among the persons who played a critical role in the formation of CSIR was Khwaja Abdul Hamied, the founder of CIPLA. Interestingly, CSIR and CIPLA launched Ciplenza recently for use in Covid-19 patients continuing this decades-old partnership.

The recent partnership of CSIR and Tata Sons for the CRISPR/Cas diagnostic test brings back memories of the support to CSIR at its inception from the house of Tata, which not only gave generous financial support but also garnered public support for funding CSIR.

Thus, promoting socio-economic development of the country through S&T innovations forged in partnership with industry has been a defining feature of CSIR from 1942 to 2020.

From bringing in self-reliance indelible ink to the fight against Covid-19, CSIR has played a vital role and shall do so in any future pandemic or calamity that may emerge.

Shekhar C Mande is director-general, CSIR, and secretary, DSIRThe views expressed are personal

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