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Home / India News / ‘Looking at repurposed drugs for Covid-19, vaccines take time’: Renu Swarup

‘Looking at repurposed drugs for Covid-19, vaccines take time’: Renu Swarup

Currently, Indian start-ups are mainly working on testing kits for Covid-19 and ventilators, says Renu Swaroop, secretary in department of biotechnology.

india Updated: Mar 26, 2020 11:17 IST
Anonna Dutt
Anonna Dutt
Hindustan Times, New Delhi
A scientist conducts research on a vaccine for the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) at the laboratories of RNA medicines company Arcturus Therapeutics in San Diego, California, U.S., March 17, 2020.
A scientist conducts research on a vaccine for the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) at the laboratories of RNA medicines company Arcturus Therapeutics in San Diego, California, U.S., March 17, 2020. (REUTERS File Photo )

Indian companies and researchers are in the race to develop testing kits, vaccines and molecules for treatment of Covid-19, said Renu Swarup, secretary, department of biotechnology under the science ministry, but even the first global vaccines will be available only next year.

Swarup is also the chairperson of the Biotechnology Industry Research Assistance Council (BIRAC), which serves as a bridge between research laboratories and industry. BIRAC is also helping start-ups in scaling up their manufacturing facilities to help in management of Covid-19, Swarup said in an interview. Edited excerpts: .

Where are we at with a vaccine for the disease?

Vaccines take time. Even the vaccines that are in the most advances stages globally – there are some that might reach phase III in human trials -- will not be available before next year. Indian researchers and companies are also working towards development of the vaccines. There are several activities going on right now, not just for vaccine development but also for re-purposed and novel drugs for treatment and diagnostic kits.

A couple of Indian companies and research groups are working on vaccines in India but they do not need funding from us but support for navigating regulatory frameworks.

One Indian diagnostic kit was approved by the Indian Council of Medical Research for commercial use yesterday. Are there other companies working on this?

It was very good news, a home-grown company, MyLab Discovery Solutions, has been approved to manufacture Coovid-19 diagnostic kits for commercial use. There were, of course, others who did not qualify in the validation process against existing test kits.

Two Covid-19 testing kits developed by Indian start-ups and supported by DBT were sent for validation. DBT has identified eight others that are in various stages of development and are being supported too.

Currently, Indian start-ups are mainly working on testing kits and, now, ventilators.

Is DBT also supporting work on ventilators?

Yes, we are supporting two to three indigenous companies in scaling up their manufacturing capacity at the Andhra Medtech Zone (an Andhra Pradesh government medical device manufacturing enterprise) in Visakhapatnam. We are also looking at boosting manufacturing of other respiratory devices and masks too.

What about medicines for Covid-19?

Re-purposed and new molecules against Covid-19 are two of the priority areas for the research consortium along with developing novel diagnostic kits and vaccines.

As for re-purposed drugs, several DBT institutes are looking at various available formulations to see what can work. Re-purposed drugs can be quickly put through the regulatory system to be tested. Not just the repurposed drugs, the researchers are also going through the libraries of small molecules to look for novel antivirals that can work against Covid-19.

For testing, we need access to patients, so we are already working with the hospitals to get the ethical clearances etc. Researchers will need access to samples. NIV is studying the virus and will share information with us as part of our sample exchange activity.

When will the Covid-19 research consortium start working?

A call for proposals for the consortium is still in the public domain, it will end on the 30th of this month. This will not mean we will stop accepting other proposals, all we want to do is process the first lot and get to work quickly.