New Delhi: Funds of over Rs 200 crore have been allocated to scientific institutions, industries and startups to develop innovative solutions that can help fight the novel coronavirus pandemic, Department of Science and Technology (DST) secretary Ashutosh Sharma has said.
In a telephonic interview to ThePrint late Tuesday, Sharma said more funds will be allocated in due course as and when new proposals get approved in the fiscal year.
“Since we made the calls, we have received about 500 different project proposals… Right now we have put in over Rs 200 crore (into Covid-19 projects). We will continue to fund more research depending on how many good projects we get,” he added.
Sharma’s comments come days after the DST issued several calls inviting researchers to develop technologies that can help manage the disease.
Due to the urgent need of these technologies, the DST has fast-tracked the approval process of proposals dealing with coronavirus. Last week, the DST’s Science and Engineering Board (SERB) announced funding for the first five projects, even as officials continue to consider and approve project proposals on a rolling basis. Usually the DST takes at least six months to select projects for funding.
“Also remember, to initiate a project we do not need all the money up front – more funds will get sanctioned as the project progresses,” he said.
The DST is looking at funding projects under different categories. The first focuses on R&D, being sanctioned through SERB. The next is for commercial indigenous technology, via the Technology Development Board. The third is for supporting startups that are close to the final product or technology, through the National Science & Technology Entrepreneurship Development Board.
“We are not just funding research. We are also funding startups and manufacturing activities for companies. At this moment we are not giving priority to long term research. We are focussing more on development – that is translating research into product or technology,” Sharma said.
He added that once the immediate crisis blows over, the DST will start looking at long term research on the subject.
Addressing potential need for ventilators
Ashutosh Sharma said there are specific areas of research and development that the DST is giving immediate attention to.
One is the need for ventilators. Existing ventilators can cost up to Rs 6 lakh, but some of the new designs being developed can bring the cost down to Rs 7,000, Sharma said. “There is a huge segment for patient care which does not require ‘pukka’ ventilators or ICU kind of support,” Sharma explained.
“About 14 per cent of those affected worldwide need some amount of respiratory support. But only four per cent need the ICU support. The remaining 10 per cent can use some other type of technology,” he said
“These are a different class of ventilators – for which there are about half a dozen good designs now – many of whom have made manufacturing plans with the industry,” he added.
Developing long-lasting antiviral coatings
The DST secretary also pointed out that there is a huge requirement for long-lasting antiviral surface coatings.
“There is a special call for proposals from the DST just pertaining to that, because a lot of transmission of the virus is happening through surfaces – such as fabrics, wood and metal,” he said.
Computing mission helping identify drugs
Infrastructure developed through the Ministry of Science and Technologies Supercomputing mission and Artificial Intelligence mission are being used to find good combinations of drugs that have the potential to treat Covid-19, Ashutosh Sharma said.
The SERB is actively considering some repurposed drug trials, and a decision is likely to be taken in the next ten days, he added.
“We are trying to address the problem through different verticals of technology. We are focussing on innovations based on the speed, reach, simplicity, cost effectiveness, and ease of maintenance,” Sharma said.