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Department of Biotechnology approves funding for 3 companies for developing COVID-19 vaccine

The Department of Biotechnology and the Biotechnology Industry Research Assistance Council had invited applications on the COVID-19 Research Consortium.

April 20, 2020 / 10:27 PM IST
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The Department of Biotechnology has so far short-listed three companies for funding the development of a vaccine for COVID-19, besides 13 other proposals it received for diagnostics, therapeutics and other interventions to fight coronavirus, a statement said.

The three companies are Cadila Healthcare Ltd, Bharat Biotech International Ltd and Serum Institute of India Private Limited.

The DBT said a multifaceted approach is being adopted to ensure that vaccine companies utilising different platforms and at different stages of development are fast tracked through a research consortium under funding from the National Biopharma Mission, an initiative launched in 2017 to support development of vaccines and drugs.

The Department of Biotechnology and the Biotechnology Industry Research Assistance Council had invited applications on the COVID-19 Research Consortium. The first phase of the call ended on March 30 and around 500 applications were received from academia and industry, the DBT said in a statement.

The multi-tiered review process is ongoing and till date 16 proposals of devices, diagnostics, vaccine candidates, therapeutics and other interventions have been recommended for receiving funding support, it said.

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COVID-19 Vaccine

Frequently Asked Questions

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How does a vaccine work?

A vaccine works by mimicking a natural infection. A vaccine not only induces immune response to protect people from any future COVID-19 infection, but also helps quickly build herd immunity to put an end to the pandemic. Herd immunity occurs when a sufficient percentage of a population becomes immune to a disease, making the spread of disease from person to person unlikely. The good news is that SARS-CoV-2 virus has been fairly stable, which increases the viability of a vaccine.

How many types of vaccines are there?

There are broadly four types of vaccine — one, a vaccine based on the whole virus (this could be either inactivated, or an attenuated [weakened] virus vaccine); two, a non-replicating viral vector vaccine that uses a benign virus as vector that carries the antigen of SARS-CoV; three, nucleic-acid vaccines that have genetic material like DNA and RNA of antigens like spike protein given to a person, helping human cells decode genetic material and produce the vaccine; and four, protein subunit vaccine wherein the recombinant proteins of SARS-COV-2 along with an adjuvant (booster) is given as a vaccine.

What does it take to develop a vaccine of this kind?

Vaccine development is a long, complex process. Unlike drugs that are given to people with a diseased, vaccines are given to healthy people and also vulnerable sections such as children, pregnant women and the elderly. So rigorous tests are compulsory. History says that the fastest time it took to develop a vaccine is five years, but it usually takes double or sometimes triple that time.

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Both repurposing of existing vaccine companies for immediate protection of high-risk groups and novel vaccine candidate development were considered while selecting proposals under this call.

"Funding support has been recommended to Cadila Healthcare Ltd for advancing the development of a DNA Vaccine candidate against novel coronavirus SARS-CoV-2 and to Bharat Biotech International Ltd for COVID-19 vaccine candidate utilising the inactivated rabies vector platform.

"For the Phase III human clinical trials study of recombinant BCG vaccine planned in high-risk population, Serum Institute of India Private Limited (SIIPL) will be supported," the statement said.

It added that development of a novel vaccine evaluation platform at National Institute of Immunology, an institute under the Department of Biotechnology, to support SARS-CoV-2 vaccine development has also been approved for financial support.

The DBT has been designated the central coordination agency for the development of a vaccine for COVID-19.

DBT Secretary Renu Swarup told PTI that other proposals were also being examined.

Meanwhile, the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR) has tied up with Cadila Pharmaceuticals Ltd to evaluate Mycobacterium W (Mw) for faster recovery of hospitalised COVID-19 infected patients and to minimise the spread of disease through them.

CSIR Director General Shekhar Mande told PTI that Mw can reduce the mortality in patients suffering from Gram-negative sepsis by 50 per cent. Permission has been granted by the Drug Controller of India to conduct tests on critically ill COVD-19 patients at three major hospitals in the country, he said.

Mande said Mw helps in boosting TH1 and TH2 cells which in turn builds immunity in fighting viruses and in this specific case COVID-19.

Both DBT and CSIR are departments under the Ministry of Science and Technology.

With regards to DBT, to boost indigenous production and to scale-up the production of molecular and rapid diagnostic tests, Mylab Discovery Solutions Pvt Ltd, Huwel Lifesciences, Ubio Biotechnology Systems Pvt Ltd, Dhiti Life Sciences Pvt Ltd, MagGenome Technologies Pvt Ltd, Bigtec Pvt Ltd and Yaathum Biotech Pvt Ltd will also receive funding, the statement added.

A common shared facility to manufacture diagnostic kits and ventilators will be established at Andhra Pradesh MedTech Zone (AMTZ) under National Biopharma Mission of DBT to provide scaled-up production capacity to different manufacturers, it added.

Development and deployment of contactless, affordable thermopile-based ultrasonic sensors for screening of COVID-19 suspects and indigenous production of novel PPE for healthcare professionals will also be supported under the initiative.

Follow our full coverage of the coronavirus pandemic here.
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