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JNU prof says he was first to suggest BCG vaccine trials for Covid-19 but was ‘turned down’

Professor Gobardhan Das said he had emailed Health Minister Dr Harsh Vardhan and the ICMR with the suggestion in March. Govt announced the trials in mid-April.

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New Delhi: A professor of Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU) has claimed he was the first to propose the idea of conducting clinical trials of anti-leprosy and anti-tuberculosis vaccines, which began last month, to see if they can prevent Covid-19, but was “turned down”.

Professor Gobardhan Das of JNU’s Special Centre for Molecular Medicine tweeted on 3 May, saying, “My grant proposal on BCG recombinant vaccine for Covid has been turned down by Indian govt agency citing its a bad idea. Same govt is conducting multiple trials based on my idea.”

The Bacille Calmette-Guerin (BCG) vaccine is a century-old vaccine that was developed to treat tuberculosis.

ICMR’s head of epidemiology and communicable disease Dr R.R. Gangakhedkar had on 17 April announced clinical trials of the vaccine for Covid-19 prevention, after similar trials were held in the Netherlands, US, Australia and Germany

The Council of Science and Industrial Research also announced that it would begin clinical trials on the anti-leprosy vaccine called Mycobacterium indicus pranii or MIP, which is a stronger strain of the BCG and is touted as its cousin. 

Also read: Countries with compulsory TB vaccine BCG like India are showing fewer Covid-19 deaths

‘No response’

In a telephonic interview with ThePrint Monday, Das said he first got the idea in mid-March as several other countries had started trials on BCG vaccine for Covid-19 prevention.

Das said he along with five other scientists from JNU, Soochow University in China and the University of Rome undertook a study to analyse Covid-19 data from countries with universal BCG vaccination, those which had discontinued the vaccination and those which had never adopted the vaccine.

The study, which is currently awaiting peer review, found that the “BCG immunisation is significantly correlated with lower incidences and mortality rates due to Covid-19…,” Das said.

He then sent an email to Union Health Minister Dr Harsh Vardhan on 26 March suggesting that MIP trials be conducted.

Vardhan responded to him with a single line, saying that he should talk to the ICMR’s Director General Dr Balram Bhargava.

Das then wrote an email to the ICMR head, saying, “…I believe we should initiate a clinical trial of MIP given that four countries (are) starting trials with BCG.”

“For 20 days, there was nothing, then all of a sudden I heard they were doing clinical trials,” he told ThePrint.

ThePrint contacted Dr Bhargava multiple times via phone calls for a comment, but he wasn’t available.

‘Lack of leadership’

According to Das, he had also applied to a government and an international agency for a grant to conduct further research to specifically look at how to make the BCG immunisation specific to Covid-19. Das said he was turned down by the government agency, which he didn’t name.

But the international agency, which he refused to name, agreed to give him $70,000 for the research.

“What I feel is that because of a lack of leadership, we are missing a bigger opportunity. This is the time when the leadership should involve all the stakeholders. I am not just talking about myself. But this is the opportunity for India to save the world and save humanity. Instead, now everybody is fighting each other,” Das said.

Also read: Can BCG vaccine protect against Covid-19? Here’s why the excitement needs to be tempered


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  1. Prof Das, we at Serum Institute of India, having our proprietary recombinant BCG (not available outside) proposed it’s role in January itself and started trial in Germany, India (more than 5000 Healthcare workers), USA. Due to shipment issues we unable to provide the same to Netherlands.
    Your claim is fake, have you developed any Vaccine for claiming?

  2. Who is doing politics now…Govt or JNUians….? We have all the rights to ignore any idea coming from an institute sounding anti India Slogans and then vehemently supporting such traitors….
    And “print” an external arm of this ideology…


  3. Exactly said.. what to do we are living and ruled by peoples who believe cow urine can cure diseases.

    Need of the hour is vaccine which could have been launched within two to three month from day1 with current technology.
    For most, pharma is a business and people need to understand difference between regulations and doing right things at right moment.
    Only a true leader can understand such things and while others just clap hands and ring bells to stop a VIRUS.

  4. I want to point out factual inaccuracy and fake news reporting. You in this article say that they rejected his idea quoting ‘it was a bad idea’ but later he says there was silence on it and then they started trials. Which one is it? Were they silent or did they say it was a bad idea? Be more responsible in journalism

  5. Everybody wants to do ICMR projects. Why they only know. We only guess! Being a medical professional myself I feel that no medical research can be done in our country…

  6. we have to work as one family It has been always prevailing in our country due to political influence, we are not working together unlike in Italy, either for a cause or a remedy. Politics should be kept out from such mega scientific remedy all medical professionals including scientists shoukd come together and work as one family for a human cause.

  7. Honesty, diligence, courtesu and integrity are too much to expect in india under modi. Comgress somehow picks gems and makes good use of their skill. For bjp its dr.modi, economist modi, scie tist modi, pharmacist modi, marketer modi, all modi

  8. If you suggest they will ignore and later take your idea to do further processing. However the person who initially suggested is never acknowledged.

  9. Does Dr. Gobardhan Das know that possible BCG link was in circulation since early Feb. and the French started a clinical trial even before he came up with this idea! Also, Dr. Harsh Vardhan did the right thing and refer it to Dr. Balram as he heads ICMR and is knowledgeable about clinical sciences. Dr. Das must spend time in exploring new research ideas rather than complaining.

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