The Patanjali group, whose flagship unit sells consumer products and ayurvedic remedies, said it has launched clinical trials on humans to find a cure for COVID-19 after receiving regulatory approvals.
"We are not talking about an immunity booster. We are talking about a cure," said Acharya Balkrishna, managing director of Patanjali, whose division Patanjali Ayurved sells affordable products such as coconut oil and toothpaste.
The clinical trials have begun in Indore and in Jaipur after Patanjali secured permission last week.
The decision to diversify into the hunt for a cure for the deadly pandemic is unusual for Patanjali because the rush to develop treatments for COVID-19 has so far been led by Big Pharma. Large pharmaceutical companies such as Gilead Sciences, Pfizer, Johnson & Johnson, Moderna, Inovio Pharmaceutcials and GlaxoSmithKline, among others, are racing to find a successful vaccine.
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Patanjali, co-founded by yoga guru and entrepreneur Baba Ramdev, runs a sprawling business empire (see chart) and employs some 50,000 people.
Patanjali Ayurved reported a turnover of Rs 8,500 crore for FY19.
Brokerages CLSA and HSBC see Patanjali Ayurved as the fastest growing FMCG company in India, though the company’s ambitions have been hurt by reckless expansion and inconsistent quality of products. Conducting clinical studies of a potential treatment for a deadly pandemic is an audacious move by the company.
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Balacharya, as he is popularly referred to, said the group began treating people for COVID-19 as early as in February 2020.
"By March, we had already treated several thousand people. But they were not part of an evidence-based, clinical trial. To get our discovery registered as a cure, we had to go through clinical trials," he said.
Securing permits for clinical trials was not easy, according to Balacharya. The group needed several government clearances to be given even a go-ahead for these trials. ICMR (Indian Council of Medical Research) was unwilling to grant it the go-ahead. So the group decided to register with the CTRI (Clinical Trials Regulator of India) and began its clinical trials at one of the departments under Jaipur University.
Patanjali has the required facilities for conducting such tests, according to people familiar with the group's operations. It has three laboratories – all approved by the NABL ((National Accreditation Board for testing and Calibration Laboratories). Of these, one laboratory is dedicated exclusively for COVID-19.
"Compare us with any facility any Ayurveda company or institute has in India, and our laboratories are by far the best. We have 500 researchers, of which at least 100 are post-doctoral researchers," said Balacharya.
Patanjali clearly wants to combat COVID-19 with Ayurveda, according to Balacharya.
"We have screened close to 1,000 phytochemicals from more than 100 medicinal plants, in-sillico (of scientific experiments or research conducted or produced by means of computer modelling or computer simulation). We have already developed the required protocols and are now proceeding with evidence-based treatment for curing people afflicted with this virus," he said.
Protocols have already been laid down, said Balacharya, adding that the group’s work on a virus treatment has been put for test by experts. “Our work is already under Peer-Review for publication in Virology Journal, in Springer-Nature, and available at their pre-print server.
"And once this is done, we shall go in for clinical trials for cures relating to diabetes, blood pressure and dengue as well," said Balacharya.
(RN Bhaskar is consulting editor with Moneycontrol)
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