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India to set up Covid-19 research consortium for diagnosis, therapy

The research group will work under the guidance of the Science and Technology core group set up by Prof K VijayRaghavan, principal scientific advisor to the government.

Updated: Mar 19, 2020, 08:15 IST

By Anonna Dutt, Hindustan Times New Delhi

A scientist at RNA medicines company Arcturus Therapeutics research a vaccine for the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) at a laboratory in San Diego, California, U.S., March 17, 2020. (REUTERS)

India will set up a Covid-19 research consortium to bring together the best scientists to meet the challenges of prevention, diagnosis, and therapy for the new coronavirus. The department of biotechnology will invite research proposals for the consortium within a day.

“We have been having meetings every day and have come up with a strategy to prioritise our research work. The focus will, of course, be on developing improved diagnostic kits, looking for novel molecules or repurposed drugs for the treatment of the disease, and developing a vaccine,” said Dr Renu Swarup, secretary, Department of Biotechnology.

The research group will work under the guidance of the Science and Technology core group set up by Prof K VijayRaghavan, principal scientific advisor to the government. “My office has set up an ‘S&T Core-team on Covid-19’, of experts, who will reach out to each of the clusters, help define problems that need urgent and immediate solutions. They will also work with academia and industry to help link teams to solve these problems speedily,” Prof Vijay Raghavan wrote in a tweet.

 



This core team will work not only on Covid-19 but also on any future pandemics.

“The group will ensure science and tech preparedness for dealing with Covid-19 and any other future pandemics. The focus of the consortium will be on better prevention of the disease by looking at vaccine development, better diagnostics, and therapy – both in terms of ancillary treatment needed and new molecules for treatment. Basically, the healthcare sector is currently focussing on how to deal with Covid-19 with what we have, our job is to look at what we should have and make it happen,” said Dr Anurag Agarwal, director, Institute of Genomics and Integrative Biology (IGIB).

The decision was taken at a Niti Aayog meeting chaired by member, health, Vinod Paul and attended by VijayRaghavan, senior officials from the department of biotechnology, department of science and technology, Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR), IGIB and the National Cooperative Development Corporation of India

Any new diagnostic kits that are developed can help in scaling up of testing facilities. Currently, the government imports all its test kits from the World Health Organisation (WHO), like most other countries. Across the globe, there are 40 diagnostic kits under development.

 

There is no treatment for Covid-19, and scientists across the world are looking at developing therapeutics. The India government has clearance for restricted use of an anti-HIV AIDS drug, already used on four patients, on those infected by the virus.

As for vaccines, globally there are 20 vaccine candidates that scientists are working on. Human trials started on Tuesday on the first Covid-19 vaccine, developed by Moderna Inc. of the United States. It uses a genetic code copied from the Sars-Cov-2 virus to immunise people.

With the disease becoming a pandemic, research has been fast-tracked across the world.

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