New Delhi: In its big fight against the dreaded Covid-19 virus, India’s premier institute for developing vaccines, the National Institute of Immunology (NII), has formed a core team of ten topmost scientists from different streams to begin its most challenging project, to develop a vaccine for treating the virus which has devastated the world.
“It’s the toughest challenge of my career… we are working round the clock in finding an answer to treat this dreaded disease. The work for vaccine has started, mandatory clearances will follow,” said Dr Amulya K Panda, NII’s Director, and the country’s leading scientist who contributed in developing several life-saving vaccines.
Panda’s team has already developed a vaccine for cancer for which trials are at final stages in Chennai. Vaccines for leprosy and tuberculosis developed by the NII has already brought acclaim worldwide to this prestigious research institute.
The NII, headquartered in New Delhi, at present functions as an autonomous body under the aegis of Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR) and in close coordination with World Health Organisation (WHO).
Revealing for the first time on the project on COVID-19, Dr Panda told IANS that “a core team has been formed which includes scientists from various fields like drug repurposing, antibody characterisation, diagnostics etc, who can undertake a comprehensive research for developing a vaccine for treating this highly infectious virus. NII is dedicated to the nation and in this moment of crisis, we will go all out.”
For developing a vaccine and even a drug or repurposing a drug like chloroquine to treat Covid-19, scientists are on the job.
“Several patients in India suffering from this virus have recovered. It’s good news for us. We will see how their (patients) antibodies have fought with the virus. Similarly we will also look into different strains of virus. Maybe the patients who arrived from Germany, or from Italy or from China have different strains. At this moment it’s too difficult to explain everything,” said Dr Panda, an M Tech from IIT Chennai and a doctorate from IIT Delhi, and with rich experience in the field of bioprocess engineering and formulations for developing vaccines.
On the peculiar behaviour of COVID-19 virus, Dr Panda said that most of the viruses have a fixed structure. “But this new coronavirus seems to be changing its structure very quickly and therefore it makes a targeted approach too strenuous. It’s not like a polio virus where we have the same targeted vaccine which continues to work so well for years. For Covid-19, developing a vaccine is challenging and will take some time…but we have been given all help by ICMR and other government bodies in developing a treatment which also includes repurposing,” Dr Panda told IANS.
Explaining repurposing of drugs, the NII Director said that often a successful drug in a market, available for treatment of a specific disease, also goes well in treating other diseases. In medical parlance, this is called repurposing.
On the development of vaccines, the NII has a full fledged faculty consisting of scores of scientists specialising in different streams.” When we develop a vaccine, it goes through three different phases. Once it is ready, we first test it on mice, than on rabbits and monkeys. The human trial is done at final stages and is subject to very stringent ethical norms,and medical regulations,” said Dr Panda who has more 32 patents to his name.