Bengaluru: There will be a “Made-in-India” coronavirus vaccine within the year, Biocon co-founder and managing director Kiran Mazumdar-Shaw has said.
“You will be able to get a Made-in-India vaccine in a year’s time. There are two or three small companies that are doing really innovative work in developing the ideas for the vaccine; they have partnered with some big companies to help them,” Mazumdar-Shaw told ThePrint in an exclusive interview.
“We are also working with them. With so much focus on developing the vaccine, we can also attract funding and develop it,” she added.
Stating that a vaccine will instill a lot more confidence in people, Mazumdar-Shaw said the stigma associated with the pandemic will also wear off once people understand there is a treatment.
‘Plasma therapy sureshot treatment for Covid-19′
Mazumdar-Shaw also wants India to prepare for plasma therapy. She said her company has already had discussions with several state governments about collecting blood samples of recovered Covid-19 patients after seeking their consent.
She believes plasma therapy is a sureshot mechanism to help treat Covid-19, as it was even used during the Spanish Flu in 1918.
Plasma therapy, Mazumdar-Shaw said, involves drawing plasma from a recovered patient, which will have neutralising antibodies that will specifically kill the virus.
“If you concentrate these antibodies and push it back into a Covid-19 patient, the hope is that it will destroy the virus and the patient recovers,” she said. “There is so much data to show that it does work; we should be doing it. Several patients have earlier been helped with plasma therapy.”
Mazumdar-Shaw added that scientists such as Dr Siddhartha Mukherjee of Columbia University have highlighted this treatment. Mukherjee, she said, and a few US-based companies are working closely with Biocon to develop the antibody-based treatment.
A lot of data suggests that hydroxychloroquine is really not the wonder drug everybody thinks it is, she said.
“Remdesvir was not typically developed for Covid-19. It was tried for Ebola, MERS and other such viruses. Is it the magic bullet? I don’t think so,” she told ThePrint. “All these drugs can be effective in their own places but, on their own, they are not going to solve the problem.”
‘India is well prepared, should lift lockdown’
Mazumdar-Shaw believes that, in the last five-and-a-half weeks, India has learnt a lot, collected sufficient data, and is in a state of better preparedness.
“The numbers show that our hospitals are not going to be overwhelmed. If you look at the number of people that have been on ventilators, the cumulative number to date is much less than 100,” she said. “This means we are not going to be overwhelmed in terms of ventilator support, which the whole world is being challenged with. We should take comfort in that very few people are dying.”
She further said India is in an advantageous position as over 90 per cent of the population is below the age of 60. She explains that, globally, 80 per cent of the deaths have been of people over the age of 60 or those who present comorbidity factors.
“I think India should start opening its lockdown from 3 May and by the end of June, we should be fully operational. That is my view,” she said. “I also believe that India must revive its economy sooner than later. As we save lives, we must also save livelihoods. We can’t afford to be in a lockdown for such a long time and people need their livelihood.”
She also commended the Indian government’s rapid response to the virus, particularly singling out the combination of quarantine measures, the national lockdown and zoning methodology.
Mazumdar-Shaw said she believes we are in a safe place.
“There are very few states in the country that need to do a lot more in terms of monitoring and surveillance,” she added. “I know Maharashtra is reeling, with Mumbai having a lot of cases. Karnataka is doing very well and has very few deaths. If we factor that the number of deaths is low even as the positive cases are high, I think we are in a very safe place.”
‘Biocon developing diagnostic kits’
Mazumdar-Shaw said Biocon’s Syngene has begun work on diagnostic kits, which are fully indigenous.
“These kits need what are called probes and primers. They require enzymes,” she said. “We have identified a few companies that can make those enzymes and also help us in RNA extraction and viral extraction. We found them locally. Antibody tests are not effective, so Syngene is now developing a serological test.”
According to her, if the neutralising antibodies in convalescent patients using plasma therapy can be replicated in a laboratory, then one can scale up the treatment.
Kiran Mazumdar-Shaw is among the distinguished founder-investors of ThePrint. Please click here for details on investors.