New Delhi: Over 20 research institutes are working overnight to develop vaccines for the treatment of the highly infectious novel coronavirus, said a top government official.
The National Institute of Virology (NIV), Pune, and the Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR) are among these research institutes.
According to Renu Swarup, Secretary, Department of Biotechnology (DBT), which functions under the Ministry of Science and Technology, the government has received over 7,000 tech-based proposals from private companies and individuals across the country to fight Covid-19.
In an interview to ThePrint, Swarup further said the government is dealing with several aspects — from scaling up production of low-cost Covid-19 testing kits and ventilators to expediting research for the development of vaccine to fight the novel coronavirus.
“We are working on several aspects right now. First is scaling up the manufacturing capacity of those start-ups and incubators, who have made low-cost testing kits and ventilators. They got early approval from the NIV and ICMR also. Eight to nine companies are in the process to get approval for their kits and ventilators,” said Swarup.
“We are also supporting those companies who got approval for commercial production of testing kits and ventilators. Besides, all IIT-incubators have been asked to focus on research and development of portable ventilators, on genome sequencing and on isolation of the strain of the novel coronavirus from blood samples,” she added.
Ventilators, test kits crucial if outbreak intensifies
Swarup said IIT-Kanpur and IIT-Roorkee incubation centers are working on making portable ventilators.
“We are also supporting three indigenous companies in scaling up their manufacturing capacity of providing ventilators at a fast pace. A Mysuru-based firm is also ramping up its capacity to make more ventilators. It is working with the NITI Aayog, DBT, DRDO (Defence Research and Development Organisation) to manufacture more ventilators,” she said.
“The DBT is also supporting private companies to procure local components to manufacture ventilators because there is a problem in sourcing them from outside now (in the wake of the lockdown),” she added.
An ICMR official told ThePrint ventilators and testing kits are extremely essential if the outbreak reaches the third stage.
“India, with less than 1 lakh intensive care units and a bed ratio of 1:1,000, will be at risk if outbreak reaches the third stage. The unique nature of the disease requires 3-4 week of recovery and 21-day ventilator support,” said the official.
“Ventilators are the next level weapon after a test kit, which is required in sufficient numbers in case of a mass outbreak,” he added.
‘Vaccine to take time’
Swarup said the coronavirus research consortium, which has experts from the ICMR, DBT, NIV, are working to develop a vaccine for Covid-19.
“We are researching new molecules for treatment. We are researching repurposed drugs to treat patients. More than 45 drugs have been identified that may be effective and research is going on. Several DBT institutions are working to see which formulations can work effectively against Covid-19,” she said.
“We are also sharing our research with international consortium, which are working on vaccine development. But in any case, it will take time. They are at the animal trial stage and it will reach stage three of human trail not before year end,” she added.
Over 7,000 tech solutions received on Covid-19
Over 7,000 technological solutions were received by the government as part of its COVID-19 ‘Solution Challenge’.
Under the initiative, individuals and companies can submit their tech-based ideas for “strengthening the fight against coronavirus”.
“Several tech giants such as Microsoft, Intel, Amazon, Google have pitched ideas for making artificial intelligence-based solutions to detect suspected cases of coronavirus using the ICMR data. Ideas to manufacture low-cost ventilators, low-cost test kits and herbal sanitisers also came,” the DBT secretary told ThePrint.
Swarup said all these ideas are being vetted.
“A committee headed by K. VijayRaghavan, principal scientific adviser to the government, is evaluating the ideas and the DBT will support the selected research proposal,” she added.
The DBT has also invited proposals from companies working in the field of research and development to manufacture ventilators, testing kits, for which it will provide the required funding, the DBT secretary added.