Indian scientists at IIL join global race to develop Covid-19 vaccine

Updated on Apr 08, 2020 07:50 PM IST
The IIL has partnered with Australia’s Griffith University to develop the vaccine through an “approach” that looks promising to both institutions, according to the organisation.
Scientists from IIL and Griffith University will jointly develop a “live attenuated SARS – CoV-2 vaccine” or Covid-19 vaccine using the “latest codon de-optimization technology”. (Image used for representation).(HT PHOTO.)
Scientists from IIL and Griffith University will jointly develop a “live attenuated SARS – CoV-2 vaccine” or Covid-19 vaccine using the “latest codon de-optimization technology”. (Image used for representation).(HT PHOTO.)
Hindustan Times, New Delhi | By

Indian scientists are scrambling to develop a vaccine against the SARS-CoV-2, the novel coronavirus, with the Hyderabad-based Indian Immunologicals Limited (IIL), a subsidiary of the National Dairy Development Board (NDDB), joining a frantic global race.

The IIL has partnered with Australia’s Griffith University to develop the vaccine through an “approach” that looks promising to both institutions, according to the organisation.

“This is a significant cross-continental collaboration,” the chairman of the NDDB and the IIL Dilip Rath told HT.

Scientists from IIL and Griffith University will jointly develop a “live attenuated SARS – CoV-2 vaccine” or Covid-19 vaccine using the “latest codon de-optimization technology”.

A live-attenuated vaccine is one where the target virus is considerably weakened but still alive, just enough to trigger immunity but cause no harm. “Codon de-optimization technology” is a popular method of developing vaccines that allows manipulation of the constituents of a virus’s genetic code called “codons”, according to the US Centers of Disease Control.

IIL is a major player in the human vaccine market in the country, supplying human pediatric and rabies vaccines. IIL is also a major supplier of pediatric vaccines to the country’s state-run universal immunization programme.

In India, vaccine manufacturer Bharat Biotech is working on developing an intra-nasal drop vaccine against SARS – CoV-2 in collaboration with the University of Wisconsin-Madison and vaccine firm FluGen. The Pune-based Serum Institute is also working on a coronavirus vaccine.

Public institutions and private firms in the US, China and Europe are already conducting early trials of a vaccine. “Development of a Covid-19 vaccine has become a matter of national pride. It’s conceptually not a very difficult thing to achieve but takes time,” said Dr Ashok Kayal, a former professor of neurology at Gauhati Medical College and Hospital.

According to Rath, the IIL is looking at a new “codon de-optimization technology” because scientists from both India and Australia see it to be promising for developing a vaccine for “prophylactic, active, single dose immunization against coronavirus in humans, with an enhanced safety profile”. The vaccine is expected to provide long-lasting protection, he said.

In an email response, Professor Suresh Mahalingam of Menzies Health Institute Queensland, Griffith University, Australia said: “As this vaccine will be a live attenuated vaccine, it is expected to be highly effective by providing very strong cellular and antibody immune responses against the virus.”

A live-attenuated vaccine has a proven track record for economical large-scale manufacturing and well-known regulatory approval pathway, Mahalingam said.

Most medical scientists agree that the coronavirus crisis will come to an end either with a costly so-called “herd immunity” or with a vaccine. Herd immunity occurs when a population develops collective immunity against a disease by simply battling it but this stage comes after the disease strikes about 80% of the population and potentially causing thousands of deaths.

New technology in genomics and greater international coordination have resulted in speedier discovery of vaccines. Yet, it remains a long-drawn out process because vaccines undergo rigorous testing in animals and humans.

After completing the research, the vaccine strain will be transferred to IIL and the vaccine maker will work with India’s drug regulator, the Central Drugs Standard Control Organisation, to conduct clinical trials.

The IIL is already working with Griffith University for development of a Zika virus vaccine, which is currently at pre-clinical toxicology testing stage. The codon de-optimization technology has been successfully employed to reduce the virulence of several RNA viruses including Enterovirus C (Poliovirus), HIV type 1 and Zika virus.

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  • ABOUT THE AUTHOR

    Zia Haq reports on public policy, economy and agriculture. Particularly interested in development economics and growth theories.

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