The PM-CARES (Prime Minister’s Citizen Assistance and Relief in Emergency Situations) Fund has allocated Rs 100 crore to support the initiative to develop a vaccine against coronavirus disease (Covid-19). There are as many as 25 vaccine development initiatives underway in India, across academic institutions, industry, and start-ups, according to the Department of Biotechnology.
The allocation will be utilised under the supervision of the Principal Scientific Advisor, K VijayRaghavan.
“The allocation of Rs 100 crores from the PM-CARES fund was announced just yesterday; we will take a stand on how to utilise it within the next couple of days. But definitely the support will be for a completely indigenous vaccine candidate,” said Dr Renu Swarup, secretary, department of biotechnology, which is the nodal agency for Covid-19 vaccine development effort in the Prime Minister’s Task Force.
At least 10 vaccine projects are getting support — both monetary and regulatory – under the DBT-BIRAC (Biotechnology Industry Research Assistance Council) consortium. It is unclear whether these projects will also be eligible for money from PM-CARES.
“These projects are already receiving support from BIRAC, besides it is too early to say whether this funding will go to any of them. Most of them have international partnerships. Apart from these10 candidates, there are about fifteen others from different research groups. These are in different stages of development and are currently being evaluated by the committee to see which has come further along and make more sense,” said Dr Swarup.
Thus far, DBT-BIRAC has backed 70 proposals; it accepts applications of a rolling basis. Of these 70 proposals, 10 are vaccine candidates, 34, diagnostics for development or scale-up,10, are therapeutic options, two are drug repurposing proposals, and 14 are preventive interventions.
Some of the vaccine candidates being supported by the consortium include a next-generation mRNA vaccine candidate by Gennova and another by Christian Medical College, Vellore. These vaccines use genetic material of the virus to create immune response. Work on an intra-nasal vaccine by Indian Institute of Chemical Technology is also being supported by it.
Another vaccine candidate selected for funding has been developed by Bharat Biotech, which uses an inactivated rabies virus as the vector or transport of some genetic sequence of Sars-Cov-2 and produce an immune response.
“All the proposals under the consortium are being funded by the National Biopharma Mission. However, these activities were not pre-budgeted, so some of the existing projects are being shelved to fund those that are high-priority. A budgetary supplementation request has been submitted to continue the non-Covid commitments,” said Dr Manish Diwan, head, strategic partnerships and entrepreneurship development at BIRAC.
The Department of Biotechnology has also constituted the National Biomedical Resource Indigenisation Consortium N-BRIC as a Public Private Partnership to drive indigenous innovation focused on developing reagents, diagnostics, vaccines and therapeutics for Covid-19. The consortium will be based out of Centre for Cellular and Molecular Platforms (C-CAMP) in Bangalore and will aim to provide a platform for building indigenous biomedical resources, a C-CAMP statement said.
Kiran Mazumdar-Shaw, Chairperson of N-BRIC said: “This consortium is of immense national importance at a time of an unprecedented global health emergency. This will enable us to synergise and optimise the latent capabilities we possess across the pyramid of academic research labs, start-ups, MSMEs and large enterprise to deliver innovative solutions at scale for India and the world.”
“To meet our biotech and biomedical needs, the country needs to be self-reliant for product manufacturing and also the components, reagents, resources across the product development chain, N-BRIC brings together academia, industry, start-ups and MSME to serve not just the country but the world,” said Swarup.
C-CAMP is a life sciences incubator supported by DBT. Its mandate is to enable cutting-edge life science research and innovation, and promote entrepreneurship.