Indigenous Rapid Test and RT-PCR diagnostic kits expected by May-end, says Harsh Vardhan
New Delhi, April 29, 2020
Union Minister of Health & Family Welfare Harsh Vardhan has expressed confidence that the indigenous rapid Test and RT-PCR diagnostic kits expected to be available by May-end will make India self-reliant in the fight against the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic.
The Minister, who also handles the Science & Technology portfolio, was speaking at a video conference here yesterday to review the 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. The progress made in indigenous development of a vaccine, Rapid Test and RT-PCR diagnostic kits came up for special mention.
“The sincere efforts of DBT scientists will enable the country to be self-reliant in the 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,” he added.
Secretary, DBT, Renu Swarup said DBT has evolved a multi-pronged research strategy and action plan for an immediate response as well as for long-term preparedness to tackle COVID-19.
These multifaceted efforts include research towards the development of candidate vaccines, therapeutics, and suitable animal models for COVID-19 as well as the development of indigenous diagnostics and genomic studies on the host and pathogen.
The DBT and its PSU, Biotechnology Industry Research Assistance Council (BIRAC) have announced a COVID-19 Research Consortium Call to support Diagnostics, Vaccines, Novel Therapeutics, Repurposing of Drugs or any other intervention for control of COVID-19.
During the interaction with DBT scientists, Dr Harsh 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 were being developed representing one or more critical steps in virus lifecycle. Inhibitors were being tested.
Work was in progress to isolate neutralizing antibodies either from the patients recovered from COVID-19 or from human antibody libraries. Various AIs of DBT were working on the development of candidate vaccines which were at various stages of pre-clinical studies. The overall aim was to demonstrate the proof of concept and immunogenicity and safety evaluation prior to clinical testing.
At the moment, at least nine of these studies were in early stages and one delivery and adjuvant system for improving the immunogenicity of candidate vaccine at an advanced stage of development.
While discussing genetic sequencing, Dr Harsh Vardhan said, “These genetic sequencing efforts remind me of Polio eradication movement 26 years back. Towards the fag end of the Polio movement, active surveillance of the country was done to find out the cases of acute flaccid paralysis. That time also, genetic sequencing was used to establish the travel history of poliovirus which eventually helped in the eradication of polio.”
After the presentation, the Minister appreciated the work being done by scientists and their innovative ways of finding solutions to mitigate COVID-19. He also exhorted scientists working on developing new vaccines, new drugs and medical equipment, to speed up their work.
“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,” he added.
Dr Harsh Vardhan also appreciated the BIRAC efforts in supporting over 150 start-up solutions of which over 20 were ready for deployment. He also released a hand-sanitizer developed by another PSU of DBT, Bharat Immunologicals and Biologicals Corporation Ltd. (BIBCOL) which was engaged in manufacturing of various biological, pharmaceutical and food products.
At present, it was manufacturing formulations of Vitamin C and Zinc tablets to contribute towards the solutions for COVID-19. “A contribution of Rupee One towards the commercial sale of each single bottle of this sanitizer will go to PM CARES Fund”, Dr Harsh Vardhan said.