30 groups in India trying to develop COVID-19 vaccine: Government
About 30 groups in India are trying to develop vaccines against COVID-19, the Principal Scientific Advisor to the Indian government, Prof K. Vijay Raghavan, said on Thursday. Highlighting India's efforts in finding drugs against COVID-19, Raghavan also said the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR) and the All India Council for Technical Education (AICTE) have embarked on a drug discovery hackathon.
Addressing a press briefing on Thursday, NITI Aayog member Dr. VK Paul said, "The fight against coronavirus will be won through vaccine and drugs." Paul is the Chairperson of the Empowered Group-1. Raghavan added, "There are about a total of 30 groups in India, big industry to individual academics, who are trying to develop vaccines, of which around 20 are keeping a good pace."
Raghavan said that although developing a vaccine usually takes about a decade, researchers are trying to develop one within a year. He said that Indian companies and collaborators are likely to enter the human trial stage in 5-6 months.
For drug discovery, India is focusing on both repurposing existing drugs and developing new ones. Raghavan said the AICTE and CSIR have embarked on a high-end drug discovery hackathon. Under the program, students will be trained with information on how to do computational drug discovery. While India awaits vaccines and drugs, Raghavan suggested focusing on hygiene, decontamination of surfaces, physical distancing, tracking, and testing.
Raghavan said the RT-PCR test—the gold standard in India—looks for viral genetic material, however, scientists in India and worldwide are trying to develop a test that detects the viral particle's presence. Paul said that at least 20 Indian companies are now producing diagnostic kits. "India will be able to produce 5 lakh indigenous kits daily by July," he added.
When asked whether there have been any mutations in SARS-CoV-2—the virus that causes COVID-19—Raghavan said no change in the fundamental properties of the virus has been observed till now. On the use of the Hydroxychloroquine drug, Paul reiterated that its "benefits outweigh the risks if any." The World Health Organization has suspended the drug's trials and France recently banned its use for COVID-19 treatment.