New Delhi: India’s apex scientific research organisation, the Council of Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR), is in talks with American biotechnology firm Moderna to manufacture its vaccine in India, its Director General Shekhar C. Mande has told ThePrint.
The ongoing discussions are “scientific” in nature, and if successful, commercial collaborations to manufacture the vaccine will be discussed, Mande said.
“We are in talks with Moderna to understand the science behind their vaccine and how it works on the human body. Till now, the discussions are scientific in nature,” he said.
Moderna’s mRNA vaccine
The Moderna vaccine was one of the first Covid-19 vaccines, along with the one made by another pharma major Pfizer, to show above 90 per cent efficacy against the novel coronavirus in November. Moderna’s vaccine received emergency use authorisation in the US in December, and was approved by the UK in January. France’s medical regulator, HAS, has also approved the vaccine.
Moderna’s vaccine is based on messenger RNA (mRNA) technology, which is being given to humans for the first time.
In November, early data from Moderna showed its mRNA vaccine was nearly 95 per cent effective against Covid-19, similar to the Pfizer vaccine.
mRNA instructs cells to produce many substances that allow the body to function. The vaccines on this platform use carefully designed mRNA strands to teach cells to create a modified version of a key coronavirus protein, prompting an immune response that can fend off the real virus.
“It is an exciting science and we are understanding how it will work in the human body,” Dr Mande said. “I am sure many companies would be interested in commercial collaborations, but right now, only scientific discussions are going on.”
Mande added that one of the institutes under the purview of the CSIR — the Centre for Cellular and Molecular Biology (CCMB) in Hyderabad — is capable of developing mRNA technology “very quickly”.
“Once CCMB gets the science behind the vaccine correctly, it will be able to make it within weeks,” he said.
Commercial collaborations to be discussed later
According to Dr Mande, several players will be interested in collaborating with CSIR on Moderna’s vaccine technology, once talks proceed towards commercial manufacturing.
ThePrint had earlier reported that the Hyderabad-based Indian Immunologicals Ltd (IIL) was in talks with Moderna through the CCMB, something Mande confirmed.
Asked about these reports, Mande said: “I don’t know if Wockhardt has shown interests or even if Tata Sons has pitched in. We have worked with Tata Sons in the past. We will be delighted if they are interested to take part in this. Also, IIL could work.”
However, when ThePrint approached Tata Sons to confirm if it is in talks with CSIR for manufacturing the Moderna vaccine, an official spokesperson for the the company replied: “This is not true.”
CSIR had previously collaborated with Tata Medical and Diagnostics on the ‘Feluda’ test kit for Covid-19.
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