India mulls at four types of vaccines to prevent COVID-19, DBT’s shortlisted proposal has 10 candidates

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India is looking at four types of vaccines to prevent COVID-19. These vaccines are mRNA, attenuated, inactivated and adjuvant. There are around 50 groups evaluating the categories of vaccines covering biopharma and academic research centres.

DBT’s National Biomedical Resource Indigenization Consortium (NBRIC) in a public private partnership model to advance indigenous innovation will look vaccines and therapeutics for COVID-19. This is in partnership with ABLE (Association of Biotech Led Enterprises) and CII (Confederation of Indian Industry) and is being hosted by the Centre for Cellular and Molecular Platform (C-CAMP), Bengaluru.

There is a review mechanism of the proposals for vaccine candidates among others which is recommended for receiving financial support. The shortlisted proposals include 10 vaccines candidates. Under the research consortium, DBT and BIRAC are assessing applications of COVID-19 vaccine.

The department has also accepted institutes to provide animal models to test pre-clinical efficacy. It is here IIT-Indore will produce Pseudovirus SARS CoV-2 to develop in-vitro assays. The portfolio of vaccine candidates has further been enhanced by extending support to develop the next-generation mRNA vaccine candidate by Gennova and also separately to CMC-Vellore for a lipid encapsulated mRNA based vaccine. Early work to develop an intranasal vaccine candidate for COVID-19 has also been awarded to Indian Institute of Chemical Technology.

The companies engaged in vaccine and drugs include Serum Institute, Bharat Biotech, Indian Immunologicals Limited (IIL), Biocon and Zydus. Serum Institute plans to produce 60 million doses of a potential Oxford vaccine: ChAdOx1 nCoV-19 which is yet to be proven to work against COVID-19. Zydus is exploring a biologic drug to treat COVID-19 with Inteferon alpha-26. Biocon too has indicated that its old immunomodulator drug is showing its effectiveness in treating COVID-19 patients.

Hyderabad’s IIL has entered into a research collaboration agreement with Australia’s Griffith University to develop a lead vaccine candidate for coronavirus. As part of the cross-continental collaboration, scientists from IIL and the University will develop a ‘Live Attenuated SARS – CoV-2 vaccine’ or COVID-19 vaccine using the latest codon de-optimization technology.

Bharat Biotech, also Hyderabad-based has inked a pact with Thomas Jefferson University to develop a new vaccine candidate for COVID-19. It will make use of an existing deactivated rabies vaccine as a vehicle for coronavirus proteins. The vaccine development in its early phase has indicated an antibody response in mice. The company indicated that by the year-end, it would be ready for human studies.

According to Kiran Mazumdar-Shaw, executive chairperson, Biocon, vaccine development is a complex process. Developing a vaccine in a year’s time is a very daunting task. It will take time to have safe vaccine which takes at least 4 years. It is a complex process but we are being asked to do it in just one year.

The industry observers noted that vaccines constitute the largest component of the Indian biopharma segment. In addition to manufacturing, India has indigenously researched and developed novel vaccines for various diseases. Vaccines are public health tools that eradicated smallpox. The country’s Universal Immunization Programme (UIP) has also eliminated polio. Currently, India is managing one of the largest mass immunization programmes in the world. The country’s has made a mark in the international arena.

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