HRD and Health Ministers jointly launch Drug Discovery Hackathon 2020
Union Health Minister Harsh Vardhan and Human Resource Development Minister Ramesh Pokhriyal 'Nishank' jointly launching a Drug Discovery Hackathoon through video-conferencing, in New Delhi on July 2, 2020.

HRD and Health Ministers jointly launch Drug Discovery Hackathon 2020

New Delhi, July 3, 2020

Union Minister for Human Resource Development Ramesh Pokhriyal ‘Nishank’ and Health and Science & Technology Minister Harsh Vardhan jointly launched the Drug Discovery Hackathon through an online platform here on Thursday.

The hackathon is a joint initiative of the Ministry of Human Resource Development (MHRD), the All India Council for Technical Education (AICTE) and the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR) and supported by partners like CDAC, MyGov, Schrodinger and ChemAxon.

Minister of State for Health Sanjay Dhotre Prof. Vijay Raghavan, Principal Scientific Adviser, Prof. Anil Sahasrabudhe, Chairman AICTE, Dr Shekhar Mande, DG CSIR, Dr Rajive Kumar, Secretary AICTE, Prof B Suresh, President, Pharmacy Council of India and Dr Abhay Jere, Chief Innovation Officer, MHRD were also present at the launch.

Speaking on the occasion, Pokhriyal said the hackathon was the first of its kind national initiative for supporting the drug discovery process. In order to attract international talent, the hackathon will be open to participation from across the globe of professionals, faculty, researchers and students from varied fields like computer science, chemistry, pharmacology, medical sciences, basic sciences and biotechnology.

“MHRD and AICTE have vast experience in organizing hackathons but for the first time, we are using the hackathon model for tackling a great scientific challenge. More importantly, this initiative is open for researchers/faculty across the globe as we are keen on attracting international talent to join and support our efforts,” he added.

Harsh Vardhan said, “We need to establish the culture of computational drug discovery in our country. In this initiative, MHRD’s Innovation cell and AICTE will focus on identifying potential drug molecules through the Hackathon while CSIR will take these identified molecules forward for synthesis and laboratory testing for efficacy, toxicity, sensitivity and specificity."

“The objective is to identify drug candidates against SARS-CoV-2 by in-silico drug discovery through the hackathon and follow up by chemical synthesis and biological testing,” he added.

Pointing out that drug discovery is a complex, expensive, and an arduous process, with it taking more than 10 years to develop a new drug, Harsh Vardhan said, “While we pursue clinical trials of few repurposed drugs for Covid-19, as they are faster and can quickly be launched, it is also important that we find other suitable repurposed drugs and also on new drug discovery to develop specific drugs against Covid-19.

“In-silico drug discovery which utilizes computational methods such as machine learning, AI and big data will help in accelerating this process,” he added.

Dhotre also appreciated the concept and said that the government has kick-started Hackathon culture in this country which is very critical for challenging the youngsters to solve some of the daunting problems faced by the nation.

Prof K. Vijay Raghavan, PSA and Chairman of the organizing committee said that the hackathon will help India establish a new model for expediting drug discovery process. It will have three phases of three months each and the whole exercise is projected to be completed by April-May 2021.

At the end of each phase, successful teams will be rewarded. The ‘lead’ compounds identified at the end of phase 3 will be taken forward for the experimental level at CSIR and other interested organizations.

The hackathon will primarily focus on computational aspects of drug discovery and will have three Tracks. Track-1 will deal with computational modelling for drug design or identifying ‘lead’ compounds from existing databases that may have the potential to inhibit SARS-CoV-2.

Track-2 will encourage participants to develop new tools and algorithms using data analytics and AI/ML approach for predicting drug-like compounds with minimal toxicity and maximal specificity and selectivity. A third track, named Track 3 is a Moon-shot approach which will only deal with novel and out-of-the-box ideas in this field.

The first phase of the three-phase competition was launched today. The hackathon consists of challenges that are posted as problem statements and, are based on specific drug discovery topics which, are open to the participants to solve.

The competition is open to all Indian students and researchers from India and abroad. It is an online competition and anybody anywhere in the country or world can participate. The winners will be given prizes and the best entries will be taken into stage 2 of the competition. The best of stage 2 will go to stage 3. The plan is that at the end of the stage 3 competition the best solutions such as drug molecules or drug targets will be taken to the experimental level and validated for their predictions by either CSIR labs or start-ups.

During the launch function, Dr Abhay Jere, Chief Innovation Officer explained the concept of Drug Discovery Hackathon, while Prof Sahasrabudhe extended all the support from AICTE side and appealed to all technical institutions to participate in this initiative in big numbers. Prof. Sahasrabudhe also expressed gratitude to all the experts for supporting development of Problem statements.


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