DBT-inStem makes video on ‘simple pooling’ method for COVID-19 testing
The DBT’s Institute for Stem Cell Science and Regenerative Medicine (DBT-inStem) and the National Centre for Biological Sciences (NCBS) are working hand in hand with the State Government of Karnataka to test for COVID-19 from April, 2020. The two institutions entered into a partnership with the Azim Premji Foundation (APF) in late May to augment their testing efforts. This collaboration aims to develop new and innovative testing methodologies that will speed up the testing process to maximize the number of samples tested in an efficient manner, in addition to providing free-of-cost testing to a section of people. As part of this engagement, an instructional video was prepared to demonstrate the use of the technique of ‘simple pooling’ in testing, which can minimize costs and maximize the number of tests. In locations where there is low prevalence of infection and asymptomatic cases and consequently most of the samples test negative, the ‘simple pooling’ strategy reduces time for COVID-19 testing and also saves reagents and resources. The technique involves random pooling of five samples each from a cohort of samples followed by RNA isolation and RT-PCR. If the pooled tubes show negative results for COVID-19 infection by RT-PCR, all the samples corresponding to the pooled tubes are reported as ‘negative’. However, if any pooled tube tested ‘positive’ for the infection, the five samples which were part of the tube are re-aliquoted and RT-PCR is performed on individual samples to identify the positive samples among them.
Contact Info: Amrita Tripathy (firstname.lastname@example.org)
DBT-CDFD tests over 8,500 COVID-19 samples in Telangana
The DBT’s Centre for DNA Fingerprinting and Diagnostics (CDFD) Hyderabad, has entered into a Memorandum of Understanding with Nizam Institute of Medical Sciences (NIMS) for a joint project on genomic analysis of SARS-CoV-2 sequence in Indian patients. 4 The Hyderabad-based premier scientific institution, which is involved in COVID-19 testing for samples from Telangana, has also so far tested over 8,500 samples. It had started testing on COVID-19 samples on 18th April 2020 after due approval from DBT and Indian Council of Medical Research. It was nominated by the Office of Director, Medical Education, Government of Telangana along with CSIR-CCMB and ESIC as a centre for pooling of samples from selected districts of Telangana with less than 2% prevalence of COVID-19 positive cases. Subsequent to an advisory issued by ICMR on 2nd April 2020, notifying that it has no objection to initiation of COVID-19 testing in laboratories operating under the DBT, CDFD had reorganised the infrastructure to create a designated COVID-19 testing laboratory, procured testing kits and personal protective equipment, and trained the manpower. Senior scientists Dr Ashwin Dalal, Dr Murali Bashyam Dr Rashna Bhandari, and Dr Harinarayanan are supervising and providing leadership to the task with support from the staff and students. Volunteers were trained at CSIR-CCMB and Osmania Medical College Koti, Hyderabad to conduct RNA preparation and RT-PCR analysis of samples received from different regions of Telangana. It has, among other things, drawn-up detailed standard operating procedures for the COVID-19 testing facility set up at its campus. The document has been prepared based on inputs from different recommendations by the World Health Organisation, United State’s Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), and the handbook prepared by the office of the Principal Scientific Advisor to the Government of India for COVID-19 testing in research laboratories. It covers all aspects beginning from how the security guard of the Institute must receive the vehicle carrying samples at the entrance of the building to how the samples will be analysed and a report sent to the office of the district medical and health officer from where the specific sample had come. It also gives clear protocol for how the biohazardous waste produced in the process should be handled and disposed of, how to sanitise the work and how to protect those engaged in the analysis from getting exposed to the virus.
Contact Info: Varsha (email@example.com)
DBT-IBSD-JNIMS COVID-19 testing laboratory gets ICMR nod
Indian Council of Medical research (ICMR), New Delhi has given nod to the COVID-19 testing laboratory of the DBT’s Institute of Bioresources and Sustainable Development (IBSD) and Jawaharlal Nehru Institute of Medical Sciences (JNIMS) at Imphal to start COVID-19 testing. The IBSD-JNIMS centre, which was accorded with essential approvals by DBT to facilitate management of COVID-19, is now fully functional. ICMR approved the laboratory on 11th July 2020 for testing of COVID-19 samples. The laboratory is all set to undertake independent testing as and when the samples are shared by the Government of Manipur. The coordinators for this laboratory are Dr Nanaocha Sharma and Dr S Indira Devi, Scientists from IBSD Imphal. They are being assisted by all scientists, volunteer research associates and scholars of the institute.
Contact Info: Prof. Pulok Kumar Mukherjee, Director (firstname.lastname@example.org)
DBT-ILS establishes in-vitro culture facility for coronavirus
The DBT’s Bhubaneswar-based Institute of Life Sciences (ILS) has established an in-vitro culture facility for coronavirus. The cultures are from patient sources using vero cells. Seventeen virus cultures have been established from swab samples with varying virus loads. Dr Soma Chattopadhyay and Dr Gulam Syed at the Institute are taking the lead in establishing and maintaining these culture units. This measure will be of great importance for COVID-related research in the country. In addition, it will aid the industry for appropriate testing and validation of various antiviral products thereby contributing to diagnostics, pathological intervention, as well as management of the disease. This facility is in addition to a biorepository facility at ILS, which is aimed at collecting and storing clinical samples for furthering research and development related to coronavirus. ILS is the fourth lab to set up such an in-vitro culture facility in India. Contact Info: Dr Soma Chattopadhyay (email@example.com); Dr Gulam Syed (firstname.lastname@example.org. in); Dr Ajay Parida (email@example.com)
DBT-NIBMG helps beef up COVID-19 Diagnostics facilities in West Bengal
The DBT’s Kolkata-based National Institute of Biomedical Genomics (DBT-NIBMG) has extended its support to the Institute of Post Graduate Medical Education & Research (IPGMER) and its associated Seth Sukhlal Karnani Memorial (SSKM) Hospital in the city to beef up COVID-19 diagnostics facilities in the state. DBT-NIBMG deputed a team of volunteers in the SDLD and VRDL laboratories of IPGMER where they were involved in 5 hands-on viral RNA isolation and real-time PCR. They worked at COVID-19 testing labs at IPGMER for a few weeks for continuous periods of 5-6 hours every day wearing PPE kits. They assisted in performing COVID-19 tests and also trained the in-house staff at the hospital. To date, they have processed more than 2,500 patient samples. In addition to the IPGMER and SSKM Hospital, volunteers from DBT-NIBMG are visiting other district hospitals in West Bengal to help set up COVID-19 testing labs.
Contact Info: Dr Souvik Mukherjee, firstname.lastname@example.org
DBT’s NCCS tests over 10000 samples for COVID-19 in 10 weeks
The DBT’s Pune-based institute, the National Centre for Cell Science (NCCS) began testing samples for SARS-CoV-2 on 25th April, 2020 to facilitate the ongoing COVID-19 surveillance. Speeding up efforts further, DBT-NCCS tested 5000 more samples in just a month, and crossed a major milestone by completing over 10000 tests in 10 weeks. This was made possible only by the tireless, diligent and persistent efforts of several scientists and technical and other staff, who have been working long hours, seven days a week. It was approved as a diagnostics facility by the DBT, the Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR) and the Maharashtra State Government. Extensive and speedy preparations were made by this government research institution, including repurposing some of its laboratories to serve as a testing centre, procurement of supplies like PPE and kits, formulating and validating a standard operating procedure (SOP), getting technical and scientific staff trained at ICMRNIV for COVID-related biosafety measures and sample testing, registering the facility with the appropriate authorities, and conducting mock testing. Initially, fewer samples were sent to this Centre from within the Pune district of Maharashtra. However, with Maharashtra being the worst affected state in India, a large number of samples are required to be tested every day. Therefore, the Centre experienced a surge in the numbers of samples received in early May and started receiving many samples from other districts of Maharashtra as well. Undaunted by this task, the team at the Centre accelerated and doubled its efforts, frequently testing over 200 samples per day. Within less than a month and a half, this centre tested its first 5000 samples.
Furthermore, NCCS has also provided guidance and assistance to other research organizations, such as IISER-Pune and ARI to set up COVID-19 testing facilities on their respective campuses. A short video shared on the NCCS social media and website offers a glimpse into the activities of the diagnostics team. Updates are also posted on the website and social media of DBTNCCS, to keep the public abreast of the activities of this testing centre. COVID-19 tests being performed at NCCS facility 6 The timely and much-needed support provided by ICMR-NIV, the Armed Forces Medical College, the B. J. Medical college in Pune, and the Directorate of Medical Education and Research in Mumbai have been invaluable in successfully initiating and implementing the activities at NCCS. The financial requirements were primarily met through the intramural funds of NCCS from the Government of India and partially supported by Lupin Ltd and Gennova Biopharmaceuticals Ltd. The Director of NCCS, Dr Manoj Kumar Bhat, is thankful to the scientific staff, technical staff and their families for their constant support in NCCS’s contribution towards this national cause.
Contact Info: Jyoti Rao, email@example.com
Students from DBT Star Colleges shine at ‘Science Quiz - CORONA'
Living in the shadows of the COVID-19, confined to their homes, has been especially daunting for the younger generation. The plethora of information and misinformation that has been flooding the media has further added to the problem. To help address both these issues simultaneously, the ‘Manav - Human Atlas Initiative’ team launched an online science quiz series, “Science Quiz - djksuk!’”, soon after the national lockdown was announced. ‘Manav’ is a project undertaken by the Department of Biotechnology’s National Centre for Cell Science (DBT-NCCS) in collaboration with the Indian Institute of Science Education and Research (IISER-Pune) and Persistent Systems. The weekly quiz series provided science enthusiasts with an engaging and fun activity that concomitantly helped raise awareness about COVID-19. The quiz aimed at nurturing scientific inquisitiveness especially among students and to disseminate correct scientific information from trusted sources like advisories released by the WHO, Ministry of Health and Family welfare, Government of India, the CDC, USA, and published scientific literature. 7 Links were provided in the quiz to encourage the participants to use these credible resources to learn more about the disease, even as they answered the questions. This quiz thus served as a common platform to assess as well as raise general awareness about COVID-19. It also gave students, especially graduates, post-graduates and PhD scholars, a glimpse into how science is used to address problems relevant to the society. The quiz received an overwhelming response, with the first quiz itself having attracted participants from twenty-two Indian states. Over a thousand students from academic institutions across India, including forty-two DBT-Star Colleges, participated in this series. DBT-Star Colleges are those supported by the Department of Biotechnology, Government of India, under its `Star College’ scheme. This scheme was initiated by the DBT in 2008 to support colleges and universities offering undergraduate education to improve science teaching across the country. Twenty rural colleges and ninety-six colleges from urban areas have been supported by the DBT under the scheme. Colleges from various parts of India have also been benefiting from other initiatives of the ‘Manav’ project. These include workshops on “How to read scientific literature”, which have been conducted at various educational institutions in the past. Webinars are currently being used to deliver this training, to cater to the requests being received from various colleges. Another webinar series in progress covers diverse aspects of data science and its applications in various disciplines, from astronomy to biology and public health. The ‘Manav’ initiative, exemplary of a public-private partnership, is funded by the Department of Biotechnology and Persistent Systems. It aims to annotate the extensive data available in the scientific literature related to the human body, to serve as a proof-of-concept for the eventual goal of creating a virtual human atlas. The project involves upskilling students by training them to comprehend and extract relevant information from scientific literature using a digital annotation tool. Students and researchers interested in participating in the project and webinars can learn more from the project’s website (https://manav.gov.in/) and social media: Twitter (Manav Human Atlas; @ManavAtlas) & Facebook (MANAV Human Atlas). The Rajya Sabha TV has also featured this initiative in Gyaan Vigyaan (https://youtu.be/Ule08azR1ww) & Science Monitor (https://www.youtube. com/watch?v=IMgTw6rXTGQ).
Contact Info: Jyoti Rao (firstname.lastname@example.org)
A potential solution for monitoring severity of COVID-19 patients
Application of Artificial Intelligence (AI) is revolutionizing various sectors including healthcare. Innovators are already using AI to deliver better health-related facilities for the masses through Apps. AI is marching forward in the medical field. A start-up Predible Health Pvt. Ltd has come up with an innovation called Lung IQ. This innovation is a holistic AI-based application for the diagnosis and monitoring of respiratory conditions. The solution enables early detection of lung cancer, characterization of chronic obstructive pulmonary diseases and monitoring of interstitial lung diseases. This innovation has been developed by using large proprietary datasets with customized algorithms for detection, qualification and diagnosis. It is compatible with all kinds of CT 8 scanners. It can help radiologists detect and quantify findings better in daily practice. It is also available as a joint solution with teleradiology for an end-to-end reading. The DBT’s public sector undertaking Biotechnology Industry Research Assistance Council (DBT-BIRAC) is supporting the innovation. It is a potential solution for monitoring the severity of COVID-19 patients. It can help radiologists detect, quantify and communicate COVID-19 findings from Lung CT images. The findings of COVID-19 are very similar to that of other infectious and inflammatory diseases and this ready-to-use product can be helpful in the fight against COVID-19 pandemic.
Contact Info: Dr Shirshendu Mukherjee; Dr Hafsa Ahmad; Ms Ginny Bansal (email@example.com, firstname.lastname@example.org, email@example.com)
A potential solution to manage pregnancies amidst COVID-19
The DBT’s public sector undertaking Biotechnology Industry Research Assistance Council (DBT-BIRAC) is supporting a new advanced intrapartum monitoring tool for an automated partograph generation developed by Janitri Innovations. Named DAKSH, the patented technology can help a staff nurse to register and enter vital signs of a pregnant woman, remind her to monitor the labour vitals, as per the standard WHO intrapartum protocol and generate alerts in case of complications, based on an inbuilt algorithm. With this system, a doctor at a remote location can also view the live labour progress and guide the staff nurse. The technology can be of immense use in the current COVID-19 crisis. During the labour phase, women visit hospitals and get admitted for at least 48 hours. During their hospital stay, they can be exposed to the risk of COVID-19 in multiple ways. For instance, the doctors have to visit them frequently and the SBAs (Skilled Birth Attendants) assigned to labour rooms are also in constant contact. Further, in this unfortunate situation of Corona spread, the work burden of the medical professionals has increased manifold. Among other things, they need to handle documents regularly and consequently have to keep washing their hands every now and then. DAKSH can be useful in addressing these issues: It provides for remote monitoring: The doctors can guide the nurses without visiting them. The progress of labour can be seen by the doctor remotely. Patient management can be made easier: Multiple patients can be observed on a single screen, and audio and critical alerts can be generated based on the complications and reminders can be set for the measurement of vitals. The technology offers digital documentation: This is a paperless system. Automated partographs are generated and case sheets will be maintained digitally. This means less contact and less exposure. It also has unlimited cloud storage.
Contact Info: Dr Shirshendu Mukherjee; Dr Hafsa Ahmad; Ms Ginny Bansal (firstname.lastname@example.org, email@example.com, firstname.lastname@example.org).
THSTI files patent for a candidate vaccine against SARS-CoV-2
At DBT’s Translational Health Science and Technology Institute (THSTI), Faridabad, a research team led by Dr Sweety Samal and Dr Shubbir Ahmed and supervised by Prof. Gagandeep Kang has identified and synthesized synthetic peptides that target neutralizing B-cell or T-cell epitopes for developing antibodies against SARS-CoV-2. This elicits a desirable immune response that could block viral invasion. The preliminary non-clinical studies in mice are promising. They have further developed a multiepitope-based vaccine candidate by stitching the desired peptides to produce the protein. This approach is unique as it generates potential neutralizing antibodies, while also reducing antibody-dependent enhancement or pulmonary immune pathology, a hallmark of SARS-CoV-2 infection. The COVID-19 pandemic caused by the new coronavirus has resulted in 11,739,167 cases and 540,660 deaths globally, causing panic and significant economic damage across the world. Researchers all around the world are racing to develop a vaccine and antiviral drugs. Currently, most SARS-CoV-2 vaccines under development focus on inactivated SARS-CoV-2 or its fulllength spike (S) protein. However, based on the learning and experience of SARS, there are concerns about the induction of harmful immune responses or inflammatory reactions against non-neutralizing epitopes.
THSTI scientists studying sero-prevalence of SARS-CoV-2 in Mumbai
The DBT’s Faridabad-based institute, the Translational Health Science and Technology Institute (THSTI) has tied up with institutes in Mumbai for sero-surveillance to gain an understanding of (i) number of people infected with SARS-CoV-2, (ii) the virus SARS-CoV-2, and (iii) how it is spreading through the population. Mumbai has been at the heart of the COVID-19 pandemic. In just a few months, the tiny virus has taken over a city of about two crore population. On July 1, 2020, the number of cases in the city touched 1.8 lakhs. Consequently, THSTI, entered into an agreement with the Tata Institute of Fundamental Research (TIFR) Mumbai, Kasturba Hospital, A.T.E Chandra Foundation, IDFC Institute, and Municipal Corporation of Greater Mumbai. The collaborative project aims to estimate the prevalence of current and past COVID-19 infections in various representative communities in Mumbai at different time intervals. This study will aid in understanding how the virus has spread over time in Mumbai. For surveillance, serology testing will be done for better understanding of how many infections with SARS-CoV-2 have occurred at different points in time within Mumbai. Serology tests look for antibodies in blood. If antibodies are found, that means there has been a previous infection. Antibodies are proteins that can fight off infections. Investigations using serology testing are called sero-prevalence surveys. These surveys also help us in understanding the underlying risk factors of the disease including a person’s age, location, or comorbidities. DBT and THSTI are also involved in vaccine development. The study’s prospects to determine how long antibodies last in people’s bodies following infection will be useful for such projects also.
Contact Info: Dr Siuli Mitra; email@example.com
DBT-ILS study may help use of Syrian golden hamster for COVID-19 research
Hamsters are rodents belonging to the subfamily Cricetinae, which contains 19 species classified in seven genera. They have become established as popular small house pets. The best-known species of hamster is the golden or Syrian hamster. It is the type most commonly kept as pets. It has also been demonstrated as a clinically relevant animal model for SARSCoV-2 infection. However, lack of appropriate information regarding tissue-specific expression patterns of various proteins in these animals and non-availability of reagents like antibodies against this species is a major obstacle in doing research with them. A research group at the DBT’s Institute of Life Sciences (DBT-ILS) led by Dr Shantibhusan Senapati has conducted a study to analyze the tissue-specific expression pattern of angiotensinconverting enzyme 2 (ACE2), a proven functional receptor for SARS-CoV-2 in different organs of the hamster. They involved techniques like immunoblot analysis, immunohistochemistry, and immunofluorescence analysis to evaluate the ACE2 expression pattern in different tissues of the animal. The research team observed that the kidney, small intestine, esophagus, tongue, brain, and liver express ACE2. Epithelium of proximal tubules of kidney and surface epithelium of ileum expresses a very high amount of this protein. Surprisingly, analysis of stained tissue sections for ACE2 showed no detectable expression of ACE2 in the lung or tracheal epithelial cells. Similarly, all parts of the large intestine (caecum, colon, and rectum) were negative for ACE2 expression. Although some of these findings support earlier reports related to ACE2 expression patterns in human tissues, some also contradicts already reported findings. However, the findings of this study will definitely enable the appropriate use of the Syrian golden hamster to carry out SARS-CoV-2-related studies.
Contact Info: Dr Shantibhusan Senapati, Dr Mamoni Dash; firstname.lastname@example.org
DBT-inStem holds Sundowner Session on ‘News Fatigue’
The DBT’s Institute for Stem Cell Science and Regenerative Medicine (DBT-inStem) is one of the founding partners of COVID Gyan, a pan-institutional website that has been proactive in COVID-19 outreach efforts. The Institute has been conducting Sundowner Sessions since lockdown 1.0 in collaboration with Bangalore Life Science Cluster (BLiSc) every week focusing on various topics relevant to the socio-economic crisis caused by the pandemic. A session held on June 26, 2020, focused on ‘News Fatigue’ a phenomenon of being overwhelmed by the deluge of information on different aspects of the viral spread. Dr. Karishma Kaushik from Pune University, Prof. Krishnaveni Mishra from University of Hyderabad and Prof. Vinod Vidwans from FLAME University were the panellists. They addressed questions like what is news fatigue, does it arise from actual information or the manner of reporting on TV, digital and social media platforms, how can one avoid news fatigue, trusting one news source which provides reliable information etc. during the 50 minutes’ session. They also focussed on how to stay informed and live with the pandemic-related news moving forward and possible policy of self-isolating from the media if it is harming one’s mental health. A recording of the session will be available on the YouTube channel of COVID Gyan soon.
Contact Info: Amrita Tripathy; email@example.com
DBT-supported programme helps set up COVID-19 testing lab in Aizawl
The Mizoram Government has set up a COVID-19 testing lab at Zoram Medical College in Aizawl. The faculty and research scholars involved in the DBT-sponsored Biotech Hubs in Mizoram played an important role in providing infrastructure and other support for this endeavour. Biotech Hub coordinators and research scholars from Mizoram University (MZU), Pachhunga University College (PUC), Regional Institute of Paramedical and Nursing Sciences (RIPANS) and Central Agricultural University (CAU) also offered technical support by holding demonstration 27 and training to the Medical College faculty and staff on how to use the COVID-19 test kit obtained from ICMR, New Delhi. The four Biotech Hubs had transported the ABI Real-Time PCR, BioRAD RT-PCR and Roche RT-PCR machines, micropipettes, hot bath, and other minor equipments and consumables for use in the COVID-19 testing laboratory at the Medical College. Mizoram University has also set up a Molecular Biology research lab at Zoram Medical College through the DBT-North East Region MDR-TB project; and its facilities - autoclave, cooling centrifuge, deep freezer, consumables and glassware are also used by the Zoram Medical College for the COVID-19 testing. So far, the Zoram Medical College has tested more than 12,000 suspected samples and is conducting tests routinely. Now, during the movement of stranded people into the Mizoram state, more than 1000 samples are tested per day. Earlier, the samples from Mizoram were sent to Guwahati Medical College and Silchar Medical College for testing.
Contact Info: Dr. N. Senthil Kumar; firstname.lastname@example.org
Catheter reprocessing system for reprocessing of medical devices
To overcome the manual reprocessing of medical devices, the Catheter Reprocessing System (CRS) by Incredible Devices Pvt. Ltd supported by DBT’s Biotechnology Industry Research Assistance Council (BIRAC) ensures safe reprocessing of catheters and a variety of essential medical devices. The CRS is an automated system that safely reprocesses medical devices with minimal human intervention thereby ensuring safety of doctors and patients. CRS shall help meet the demand for limited medical devices. It is a patented technology and reduces the generation of biomedical waste by 90%. CRS also provides a cost-effective clinically proven, fail-safe way to disinfect catheter waste, at point of the source itself which helps to avoid viral outbreak due to accidental pilferage of biomedical waste. Additionally, CRS promotes safe reuse, reduces carbon footprints and saves water. It is currently priced at Rs. 5-10 lakhs per unit and comes in multiple variants. The cost varies depending upon capacity and features. Shortage of medical devices at hospitals may happen due to lack of imports and logistics issues impacting manufacturing supply chains worldwide. Manual reprocessing of medical devices 28 shall lead to a higher rate of spread of infections, risking both patients and hospital staff. This is of great consequence in the current COVID-19 pandemic.
Contact Info: Dr Shirshendu Mukherjee email@example.com; Dr Hafsa Ahmad, nbm9@ birac.nic.in; Ms Ginny Bansal, firstname.lastname@example.org
NemocareRaksha Plus: A potential COVID-19 solution
The world is struck by the COVID-19 pandemic and the number of positive cases is increasing every day across the globe. Hospitals are severely challenged by limited resources. The healthcare workers are most at the risk of contracting the infection. In such a sensitive situation, DBTBiotechnology Industry Research Assistance Council (BIRAC) supported start-up Nemocare Wellness Pvt. Ltd. has stepped forward with an innovation called NemocareRaksha Plus which has come up with a wearable device for remote monitoring of health parameters of confirmed positive cases. This continuous monitoring wearable device will aid in remote monitoring of vitals along with geolocation and prognosis of affected and quarantined patients. It will also aid in tracking their symptoms and the doctors will be alerted on detection of deterioration. The parameters that the system can measure are l Heart Rate; l SpO2 ; l Respiration Rate; l Body Temperature; l Heart Rate variability; l Cough Sounds; and l Geolocation of the subject. The clinician/public health specialist can check the dashboard to study the remote monitoring of vitals of diagnosed/suspected cases of having COVID-19 and track symptoms using trends analysis. This BIRAC-supported innovation can potentially assist in the management of COVID-19.
Contact Info: Dr. Shirshendu Mukherjee email@example.com; Dr Hafsa Ahmad, nbm9@ birac.nic.in; Ms Ginny Bansal, firstname.lastname@example.org
DBT-IBSD continues distribution of PPEs to frontline workers
The DBT’s Institute of Bioresources and Sustainable Development (IBSD), Shillong Centre distributed institute-made facemasks to security personnel and vendors in the local vegetable market at 6th Mile, Upper Shillong. The initiative was taken up under the guidance of the Director, Prof. Pulok K Mukherjee, with an objective to prevent the spread of COVID-19 among and through local vendors. Similar initiatives were also carried at IBSD centres at Imphal, Gangtok and Aizawl.
Contact Info: Prof. Pulok Kumar Mukherjee; email@example.com
Mobile I-Lab flagged off at THSTI for COVID-19 testing in Faridabad
Infectious Disease Diagnostic Lab (I-LAB), a mobile lab unit for COVID-19 testing, was flagged off at DBT’s Translational Health Science and Technology Institute (THSTI), Faridabad. The event was attended by the Deputy Commissioner and District Magistrate, Faridabad and Commissioner, Municipal Corporation Faridabad. This unit would be used for COVID-19 testing by THSTI in Faridabad and its adjoining areas. The Union Minister of Health, Dr Harsh Vardhan launched India’s first mobile I-LAB (Infectious Disease Diagnostic Lab) on 18th June 2020. The goal is to improve the last mile testing access for COVID-19 testing. I-LAB is being deployed in the remote, interior, and inaccessible parts of the country and can perform 25 COVID-19 RT-PCR tests per day; 300 ELISA tests per day; and additional tests for TB, HIV, and others as per CGHS rates. The I-LAB is supported by the DBT, Ministry of Science & Technology, under the COVID Command strategy.
Contact Info: Dr. Siuli Mitra; firstname.lastname@example.org
Epidemiological model to study the lockdown efficacy of spreading the infectious diseases
Team of researchers at DBT’s National Brain Research Centre (NBRC), Manesar sought to simulate lockdown scenarios using an Agent-Based Modelling (ABM) strategy, which is a new modelling paradigm that seeks to simulate the actions and interactions of autonomous agents within an environment. The spread of infectious viral diseases occur over a connected social network. Specifically, the goal was to understand the effect of network topology and lockdown strategies on disease spreading dynamics. To explore the effect of topology, the team assumed the social network over which the disease spreads to have small-world or scale-free properties characterized by a rewiring probability and degree distribution, respectively. Lockdowns were simulated as intervention strategies that modified the spreading dynamics of infection over a given graph structure through changes in properties of agent interaction. Lockdown efficacy was assessed by the maximum number of infections recorded during a simulation run. Thereafter, lockdown efficacy was evaluated as a function of lockdown start times and duration. Thus, the team proposed that ABM approach can assess the various lockdown strategies that aim to prevent breakdown of medical infrastructure while accounting for realistic social network configurations specific to a local population.
Contact Info: Dr Arpan Banerjee; email@example.com
DBT – AMTZ Mobile Diagnostic Unit for COVID-19 Testing - I-Lab
The Minister for Science & Technology, Earth Sciences and Health & Family Welfare Dr Harsh Vardhan inaugurated and flagged off India’s first I-Lab (Infectious disease diagnostic lab) for COVID-19 testing in rural and inaccessible areas of India. Secretary, Department of Biotechnology Dr Renu Swarup and other officials were present on the occasion. Dr Jitendar Sharma, CEO, Andhra Med Tech Zone CEO and senior officials from NITI Aayog, Ministry of Health & Family Welfare, MeiTY, other ministries, ICMR, DST, CSIR etc. joined the function through web online. Expressing his happiness to launch the I-Lab, a mobile testing facility, Dr Harsh Vardhan dedicated this to provide COVID-19 testing access to rural India. This mobile testing facility will be deployed through the DBT testing hubs to remote regions of the country for COVID-19 testing. He congratulated and appreciated the efforts of the DBT in tackling the pandemic and Impactful S&T efforts initiated in last quarter 31 added that DBT coordinated in scaling-up testing for COVID-19 by reorienting premiere laboratories as COVID-19 testing centres in a hub-andspoke model. There are now over 20 hubs in the country with 100 testing laboratories and these have tested more than 2,60,000 samples. Dr Harsh Vardhan said, “This has been possible through the DBT-AMTZ COVID Command Consortia (COVID Medtech Manufacturing Development Consortia) to cope with the current situation in the country and move progressively towards a stage of self-sufficiency. The I-lab will be deployed through these hubs into remote and interior places.” The Minister appreciated the “Andhra med-tech zone team for building this unique, innovative facility for the country at the period of lockdown through tireless, dedicated and committed efforts.” He informed that AMTZ through the support of DBT has also established manufacturing facility for indigenous manufacturing of kits and reagents for various testing kits which were initially imported thereby helping us realise the vision of Pradhan Mantriji on ‘Make-in India’, ‘Make for India’. He pointed out that today there are 953 testing laboratories in all corners of the country and elaborated on “Various steps taken by the ministry and departments towards achieving research components indigenization and their in-house manufacturing.” Dr Harsh Vardhan emphasised that “In the near future with all these collective and cooperative efforts, India will achieve self-sufficiency in healthcare technologies leading towards Atmanirbhar Bharat.” Dr Renu Swarup said on the occasion that through the concerted efforts of the Indian scientists, the country has achieved a capacity of producing nearly 5 lakh testing kits per day, exceeding the target of having one lakh test kits by May 31, 2020. She pointed out that this I-Lab has been created in a record time of 8 days by the Andhra Pradesh Med-tech Zone team with the support of DBT under the National Biopharma Mission being implemented by the Public Sector BIRAC. She highlighted that the unit has biosafety facility and is capable of performing RT-PCR as well as ELISA tests.
The Department of Biotechnology (DBT), Ministry of Science & Technology along with Andhra Pradesh Med-tech Zone (AMTZ) has initiated the DBT-AMTZ COMManD [COVID Medtech Manufacturing Development] Consortia to address the shortage of critical healthcare technologies in India and move progressively towards a stage of self-sufficiency. Under this Consortia, India’s first I-Lab has been built at AMTZ in record time of 8 days from the date of receipt of Automotive Chassis from Bharat Benz. This is a mobile diagnostic unit with biosafety facility. The I-Lab is a BSL-2 facility with on-site ELISA, RTPCR, Bio chemistry analysers. It can run 50 RT-PCR reactions 32 and about 200 ELISA in a day. Double set of machines can help increase the capacity to about 500 per day in 8 hours shift. It can be deployed in remote areas and can be lifted from automotive chassis and can be put on goods train for sending to any location in the country. The BSL-2 Lab is as per NABL specifications and is being attached to DBT’s certified testing centres. The Department of Biotechnology (DBT), under the Ministry of Science & Technology, promotes and accelerates the development of biotechnology in India, including growth and application of biotechnology in the areas of agriculture, healthcare, animal sciences, environment and industry. AMTZ is Asia’s first medical equipment manufacturing ecosystem, uniquely dedicated for Medtech and supported by various Ministries.
Infectious disease diagnostic laboratory (I-LAB)
To promote last-mile access of testing to rural India, DBT under the COVID-Command strategy has supported building of mobile testing labs through AMTZ. The unique feature of these mobile testing labs is their utility in diagnosing other infectious diseases beyond the COVID period. Specifications l Automotive Chassis, Diagnostic Equipment, Clean Room, BSL-2 lab, bio-safety cabinets; l 25 Tests (RT-PCR) per I-Lab per day; l 300 ELISA tests per day; and l Costs of additional test for other diseases for TB, HIV etc. to be as per CGHS rates. Deployment l The first I-Lab was launched in New Delhi on 18th June, 2020 by Dr Harsh Vardhan, Minister for Science & Technology, Earth Sciences and Health & Family Welfare. l The Labs will be provided to the regional/city hubs and they will deploy it further in the interior, inaccessible parts of the region.
The country will be self reliant by the end of may 2020 in producing indigenous rapid test and rt-pcr diagnostic kits
“At least half a dozen candidate vaccines are being supported of which four are in an advance stage.” - Dr Harsh Vardhan Date: 28th April, 2020 Union Minister of Science & Technology, Health & Family Welfare and Earth Sciences, Dr Harsh Vardhan reviewed through video-conferencing the various initiatives undertaken by the Department of Biotechnology (DBT) and its Autonomous Institutes (AIs) and Public Sector 33 Undertakings (PSUs) – BIRAC and BIBCOL to tackle the current COVID-19 crisis, especially with respect to progress made in indigenous development of vaccine, Rapid Test and RT-PCR diagnostic Kits. Secretary, DBT, Dr Renu Swarup informed that DBT has evolved a multi-pronged research strategy and action plan for immediate response as well as for longterm preparedness to tackle COVID-19. These multifaceted efforts include research towards development of candidate vaccines, therapeutics, and suitable animal models for COVID-19 as well as development of indigenous diagnostics and genomic studies on the host and pathogen. The DBT and its PSU, Biotechnology Industry Research Assistance Council (BIRAC) has announced a COVID-19 Research Consortium Call to support diagnostics, vaccines, novel therapeutics, repurposing of drugs or any other intervention for control of COVID-19. During interaction with DBT scientists, the Union Minister was informed about various computational methods being developed by DBT labs/AIs to predict potential antiviral drug molecules. In another strategy, surrogates of the virus are being developed representing one or more critical steps in virus lifecycle and inhibitors are being tested. Work is in progress to isolate neutralizing antibodies either from the patients recovered from COVID-19 or from human antibody libraries. Also, various AIs of the DBT are working on development of candidate vaccines which are at various stages of pre-clinical studies with an overall aim to demonstrate the proof of concept and immunogenicity and safety evaluation prior to clinical testing. At the moment, at least 9 of these studies are in early stages and one delivery and adjuvant system for improving the immunogenicity of candidate vaccine is at the advanced stage of development. While discussing genetic sequencing, Dr Harsh Vardhan said, “These genetic sequencing efforts remind me of Polio eradication movement 26 years back. Towards the fag end of the Polio movement, active surveillance of the country was done to find out the cases of acute flaccid paralysis. That time also, genetic sequencing was used to establish the travel history of polio virus which eventually helped in the eradication of polio.” After the presentation, Dr Harsh Vardhan appreciated the work being done by the scientists and their innovative ways of finding solutions to mitigate COVID-19. “The sincere efforts of DBT scientists will enable the country to be self-reliant in production of RT PCR and Antibody test kits by the end of next month. This will make it possible to meet the target of conducting one lakh tests per day by the end of next month,” he said. He also exhorted scientists working 34 on developing new vaccines, new drugs and medical equipment to speed up their work. “Out of at least half a dozen candidates supported for vaccines, four are in an advanced stage and regulatory platform at one place has been constituted for speedy clearances,” he said. Dr Harsh Vardhan also appreciated the BIRAC efforts in supporting over 150 start-up solutions of which over 20 are ready for deployment. He also released a hand sanitizer developed by another PSU of DBT, Bharat Immunologicals and Biologicals Corporation Ltd. (BIBCOL) which is engaged in manufacturing of various biological, pharmaceutical and food products. It is currently manufacturing formulations of Vitamin C and Zinc tablets to contribute towards the solutions for COVID-19. “A contribution of Rupee One towards commercial sale of each single bottle of this Sanitizer will go to PM Cares Fund,” Dr Harsh Vardhan said. Dr Renu Swarup, Secretary, DBT, senior officials, Directors of DBT-AIs, Senior Scientists and senior officials from BIRAC and BIBCOL participated in the meeting.
Art Work to demystify COVID-19
An artwork has been prepared by Michelle Ninochka D’Souza, a PhD student in the DBT’s Institute for Stem Cell Science & Regenerative Medicine (inStem) on COVID-19. D’Souza is part of Ravi Muddashetty’s lab at the Centre for Neurodevelopmental Synaptopathies( CNS) in the Institute. DBT-inStem is one of the founding partners of COVID Gyan, a pan-institutional website that has been proactive in COVID-19 outreach efforts. One of the many efforts of COVID Gyan website is weeding out myths. Infographics and artworks play a significant role in this pursuit.
DBT’s Rapid Response Regulatory Framework for COVID-19
The DBT, Government of India along with Drug Controller General of India (DCGI) has developed and notified a Rapid Response Regulatory Framework to provide expedited regulatory approvals for all diagnostics drugs and vaccines. Vaccine development is being supported by three Indian industries. Research on therapeutic and drug development has started. According to reports from the Union Health Ministry, the ministry is talking to all states and union territories about the action plan being undertaken by the stakeholders.
A new research call for botanical and traditional medicines for COVID-19
The ongoing COVID-19 pandemic is an infectious disease caused by severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2). No specific therapeutics are available and current management includes travel restrictions, lockdown, patient isolation, and supportive medical care. The rapid increase in patients of COVID-19 during the last few weeks is posing a tremendous challenge for the healthcare systems across the world including India. Effective strategies for prophylaxis and holistic management are of paramount importance in curtailing the spread of the disease and reducing burden on hospitals. There is an urgent need for its management and prevention. Some traditional medicines appear to be effective in treating the viral infection by enhancing the immunity of the body. Also, they could be a potential source of antiviral drugs and various bioactive compounds. Randomized clinical trials suggest the possibility to obtain natural products to treat viral infections and its complications from traditional medicinal plants. Much effort is needed to isolate active ingredients from plants with a confirmed antiviral activity that leads to explore their mechanism of action and, lastly, to develop a conventional dosage form design that not only controls viral infections but also reduces the associated complications. To manage COVID-19 pandemic through the application of medicinal and aromatic plants, the DBT and its public sector enterprise, Biotechnology Industry Research Assistance Council 7 (DBT-BIRAC) has come out with a new call soliciting project proposals from industry/ academia/industry-academia in following research areas: (a) Development of experimental models for evaluation of anti-viral activity of extracts, fractions and phytochemical constituents from medicinal and aromatic plants: (i) In vitro antiviral activity (nCoV2, non-infective, pseudo-RNA virus); (ii) Antiviral (anti-nCoV-2) efficacy in animal model; and (iii) MTT/PI/CCK8 assay for cell toxicity. (b) Screening of extracts, fractions, phytochemical constituents and traditional formulations from medicinal and aromatic plants: (i) Development of research leads/candidates based on screening to move towards developing phytopharmaceuticals; (ii) Development of phytopharmaceuticals for prevention, co-administration and mainstay therapy; and (iii) Development of herbal products for prevention against COVID-19 – Proof-of-efficacy, pre-clinical and clinical. (c) Studies on extracts, fractions and phytochemical constituents from medicinal & aromatic plants: (i) Immunomodulatory and anti-inflammatory activity (PBMC, Neutrophils, Th1/Th2-driven T-cell responses, antigen presentation); (ii) Effect (if any) on obesity, diabetes, lung fibrosis; (iii) Drug-drug interaction studies (CYP450 studies); and (iv) Essential oils compounds inhibitory to SARS-COV-2 proteins & infections. Last date for submission of proposals is July 03, 2020.
Contact Info: Dr Shirshendu Mukherjee (firstname.lastname@example.org); Dr Hafsa Ahmad (nbm9@ birac.nic.in); Ms Ginny Bansal (email@example.com)
ReMeDi NOVATM Digital Health Solutions - Potential COVID-19 Solution
DBT-BIRAC is supporting a new digital health solution called MeDi® SCAN-CORONA that is a combination of a set of medical devices and software applications. The solution which can be of immense use in the context of the COVID-19 pandemic sweeping across the world has been jointly developed by e-Zest Solutions Ltd. and Neurosynaptic Communications Pvt. Ltd. 8 This System can be used both as an individualised application for self-screening by individuals or for mass screening by nurses and other health workers. Any individual can, he or she can download the application and get a risk assessment for the infection by filling up details like travel history, contact history and symptoms. Screening can be done as as many times as required for risk assessment and also to check for updates. If the individual is at high risk, the application would prompt him or her to immediately visit a hospital. The location of the individual is also tagged with his/her consent. The Screening Kit for Health Workers/Nurses is very similar to that for self use by individuals. The only difference is it will be used for mass screening. This Kit includes a tablet, an IR thermometer and a rapid test kit (lateral flow assay) for the Corona suspects, and BP, SPO2 for other patients, who might need care, but are not corona suspects. The health worker/nurse will fill up the details for the patients. It is ideal for hospitals or NGOs to carry out screenings at a large scale. There is a facility for tele-consultation for non-Corona patients who have been indicated as medium or low risk and may need consultation. The package includes an application named ReMeDi® CORONA Solution that offers directto-home or clinic tele-consultation. This is an application which can provide tele-consultation to either a person assisted by a health worker at a mass screening location or directly to the masses either through a web-based application on a laptop, or as a downloadable app on an android smartphone. Hospitals can utilize this application by setting up tele-consultation hubs with doctors. It offers an ideal mechanism for providing healthcare services to a large number of patients, who may wish not to visit the hospitals due to fear of infection. It will also help the hospitals to avoid patients from crowding and thus prevent overloading of their infrastructure.
Contact Info: Dr Shirshendu Mukherjee (firstname.lastname@example.org); Dr Hafsa Ahmad (nbm9@ birac.nic.in); Ms Ginny Bansal (email@example.com)
Hand-held multi-analyte diagnostic device for COVID-19 monitoring
The COVID-19 pandemic has caused an unprecedented disruption in the global economy. Several young entrepreneurs and innovators are trying to help overcome the situation by coming up with innovations that can potentially assist in managing it. One such start-up is PathShodh HealthCare Pvt Ltd. It has come up with an innovation called “Anupath” which is a point-of-care hand-held multi-analyte diagnostic device. It can be a lifesaver in terms of monitoring COVID-19 patients particularly in hospitals and that too in intensive care units. It is a portable, handheld diagnostic device which can measure multiple analytes in human blood and urine with an electrochemical test strip with a single drop of blood. The device is equipped with Bluetooth connectivity and can store a large set of data of approximately 50,000 records. The results are generated instantaneously and are accurate to the highest standards. The product uses an electromechanical biosensing platform and is unaffected by environmental variations. The device is very easy to use and requires no prior preparation. The eight different tests measured by the device are l HbA1c (Glycated Hemoglobin); l Glycated Albumin; l Blood Glucose; l Hemoglobin; l Serum Albumin; l Microalbuminuria; l Urine Creatinine; and l Urine ACR. The product is priced at Rs50,000 and has already sold more than 45 units. This Make-in-India device will be useful in both national and international markets and can be a boon since it can provide an instantaneous diagnosis.
Contact Info: Dr Shirshendu Mukherjee (firstname.lastname@example.org); Dr Hafsa Ahmad (nbm9@ birac.nic.in); Ms Ginny Bansal (email@example.com)
Harnessing immune checkpoint blockade and hyperinflammation: A viable option for therapeutically tackling COVID-19 severity
At DBT’s National Institute of Biomedical Genomics (NIBMG), Kalyani, recent research findings pointed towards decreased T cell counts (the key players that attack the virus infected cells) and T cell exhaustion (loss of effector function of T cells, i.e., inability to attack the infected cells) among COVID-19 patients. With cues from cancer studies and mouse models of various infections, it seems plausible that T cell exhaustion could also result due to over-expression of immune checkpoint molecules such as PD-1, CTLA-4, TIM3 etc., for which effective inhibitory molecules are available that have shown success in case of cancer immunotherapy. Furthermore, cytokine storm syndrome (CRS) is another phenomenon that contributes to the disease aggravation in COVID-19 pathogenesis through elicitation of acute respiratory distress with co-existence of venous thromboembolism and multiple organ dysfunctions. A number of therapeutic options for reducing hyper inflammation or CRS are being considered worldwide, some of which are already in clinical trials. Of these, tocilizumab has an FDA approval for treatment of rheumatoid arthritis and related diseases as well as an oncology supportive care drug. Therefore, it is tempting to propose that a combination therapy could be designed to counteract CRS on one hand, together with reversal of immune checkpoint blockade, as an antiviral for tackling severe COVID-19 pathogenesis. 10 The latter phenomenon could bolster the activation of effector T cells to specifically target the virus-infected cells and act to prevent future infections through generation of memory T cells. However, such translational insights could be implemented only after examining the spectrum of host immune-related factors such as, antigen presentations, immune activations and inhibitions, cytokine profiles etc. associated with the various stages of COVID-19 pathogenesis, i.e., SARS-COV-2 positive asymptomatic individuals, individuals with mild symptoms (not required to be transferred to ICU) and individuals with severe disease (admitted in ICUs, succumbing to death or recovering). COVID-19, the disease caused by the RNA virus SARS-CoV-2, has a spectrum of effects in different patients. This is suggestive of the key role played by host immunity in COVID-19 pathogenesis. Some of the thrust areas of therapeutically tackling severe cases of COVID-19 are development of antiviral drugs, monoclonal antibodies, use of convalescent plasma from recovered severe patients and prophylactic vaccines against SARS-CoV-2.
Contact Info: Professor Sharmila Sengupta (firstname.lastname@example.org)
On-campus COVID-19 testing effort by inStem
The DBT’s Institute for Stem Cell Science & Regenerative Medicine (inStem), Bengaluru have received contributions from the Punjab National Bank (PNB), the Azim Premji Foundation, Standard Chartered Global Business Service, and the Nuclear Power Corporation of India Limited (NPCIL) among others for on-campus COVID 19 testing. The InStem in partnership with national agencies and state healthcare systems has tested more than 16,000 samples, since the laboratory began on April 13, operating entirely by volunteers among the campus community. This effort has impacted diagnosis across the state.
DBT-BIRAC supports a new non-alcoholic disinfectant to stop COVID-19 spread
Hospital-acquired infections affect millions of people worldwide. In the present juncture, when the COVID-19 pandemic is sweeping across the world, transmission through contact is very high and the risk is even higher while visiting the hospitals. To tackle this issue, the DBT’s Biotechnology Industry Research Assistance Council (DBTBIRAC) is supporting a new non-alcoholic aqueous-based colloidal silver solution developed by Weinnovate BioSolutions from its NanoAgCideTM technology for disinfecting hands and environmental surfaces. Silver nanoparticles have antiviral efficacy against many viruses such as HIV, Hepatitis B, Herpes simplex virus, and Influenza virus. Recent reports have suggested the role of silver nanoclusters in inhibiting the proliferation of Coronavirus also. Nanoparticles are rapidly emerging as an effective solution to a variety of issues related to COVID-19, from disinfection to imaging. Silver nanoparticles-based materials will be able to prevent the contact infection of healthcare workers, besides preventing patient infection. Colloidal silver can affect COVID-19 spread by blocking the RNA replication and reduce infectivity by blocking the surface glycoproteins. This proprietary technology is gentle on the skin and doesn’t require any special arrangement for storage unlike the alcohol-based sanitizers which are highly inflammable making their production, transportation and storage a risky affair. Another major advantage is that the solution releases the silver nanoparticles on the surface in a slow and sustained manner which ensures its effectiveness for a longer duration. The product is priced at Rs. 450 for a 500ml bottle. An Indian patent has been filed for the process of making the colloidal silver and a test license has been granted for making hand sanitizers and disinfectants. The start-up aims to manufacture 200 litres or more of colloidal silver solution per day to cater to the demand of hand sanitization and disinfection. 7 Innovativeness:
Safe: Aqueous based, no hazardous chemicals;
Effective against bacteria, spores and viruses;
Can be used on all surfaces;
Stays on the surface for a longer time;
Contact Info: Dr Shirshendu Mukherjee (email@example.com); Dr Hafsa Ahmad (nbm9@ birac.nic.in); Ms Ginny Bansal (firstname.lastname@example.org)
DBT-InStem scientists test new algorithm for COVID-19 testing
Researchers at the DBT’s Bengalurubased Institute for Stem Cell Science & Regenerative Medicine (DBTInStem) is in the process of writing a new chapter in the history of sample testing in collaboration with their colleagues in Tata Institute of Fundamental Research’s National Centre for Biological Sciences (NCBS) and IIT, Mumbai. Random pooling of test samples is an important testing strategy for community surveillance and wide coverage during epidemics. However, this approach is relevant only in areas with low levels of infection and not effective when prevalence rates are close to or higher than 5% in a population. Researchers are working towards developing smart pooling strategies that overcome this limitation. In a method known as combinatorial tapestry pooling, individual samples are pooled together with various combinations. Thus, each pool comprises a combination of different individual samples. No two pools are identical. This is designed and achieved using sophisticated computerized algorithms, which once developed, can be executed by individuals trained in sampling and running diagnostic RT-PCR-based assays using automated approaches. The major advantage of this effort is that depending on the combination of pools in the matrix, it is even possible to identify individual samples that are positive, thereby eliminating the requirement for second-round testing of individual samples in pools and thus provide for faster reporting. Theorists at NCBS and IIT Mumbai have developed one such algorithm, which is currently being experimentally tested in the laboratories at inStem. It involves matrices of increasing complexity and samples of known status. Two matrices have been tested successfully. More are in the pipeline. Meanwhile, activity in the COVID-19 testing laboratory jointly run by DBT-InStem and NCBS at the Bangalore Life Science Campus continues without a break. Testing is primarily driven by volunteers drawn from students, staff and the laboratory. It has continued to process 300-500 samples a day. The laboratory functions seven days a week with volunteers managing fatigue and many other constraints as they strive to fulfil their commitment to the effort. They are, among other things, learning how to strike a balance between the responsibility and their ownership of the testing effort with the tug of their research, as activities cautiously ramp up in the laboratories on campus. A wonderful story on this future generation of research leaders, their motivation and the impact of this experience in their lives, is in the making.
Contact Info: Amrita Tripathy (email@example.com)
Jeevtronics: Hand-cranked ‘SanMitra 1000 HCT’ defibrillator for sudden cardiac arrest, a potential COVID-19 solution
Biotechnology Industry Research Assistance Council (BIRAC)-supported start-up Jeevtronics has developed the world’s first hand-cranked defibrillator since sequestration areas inside hospitals for corona victims need lots of defibrillators. The “SanMitra 1000 HCT” defibrillator is particularly useful for COVID19-like situations. This device is a dual-powered (Hand-Cranked and Grid) defibrillator. This defibrillator works both on grid electricity and on a built-in hand-cranked generator. Thus, it is more reliable than traditional defibrillators. This low-cost device does not need a battery replacement and can be powered in a few seconds by rotating a small hand paddle. It is proving to be a lifesaver in regions where electricity is scarce. Defibrillators powered by electricity are common at airports and hospitals, but this ‘Made in India’ machine is cost effective as compared to the imported electric defibrillators. This light-weight innovation does not require inverter backup and has been engineered to be most suitable for ambulances wherein it can withstand high/low temperatures, vibrations, water ingress etc. Thus, this defibrillator is a step forward in affordable lifesaving technology. Some of the important features of the machine are bi-phasic, light weight, low cost, no inverter back-up required, useful for ambulances, hospitals, off-grid locations, disaster relief, can be used by armed forces, stadium etc. The Coronavirus outbreak has brought life to a near standstill in most parts of the world. Elderly people, pregnant women and those with underlying medical problems like cardiovascular disease, diabetes, chronic respiratory disease, and cancer are more likely to develop serious illness.
Contact Info: Dr Shirshendu Mukherjee (firstname.lastname@example.org); Dr Hafsa Ahmad, (nbm9@ birac.nic.in); Ms Ginny Bansal (email@example.com)
DBT’s BIRAC recommended funding support for development of DNA Vaccine Candidate for COVID-19
The DBT’s Biotechnology Industry Research Assistance Council (BIRAC), New Delhi has recommended funding support for development of DNA vaccine candidate for COVID-19 under the National Biopharma Mission as part of its COVID Research Consortium Initiative. The proposed DNA vaccine candidate of Zydus comprises of a DNA plasmid vector, carrying the gene, encoding the spike protein of the SARS-CoV-2 virus. The S protein of the virus includes the receptor binding domain (RBD), responsible for binding to the human angiotensin converting enzyme (ACE)-2 receptor which mediates the entry of the virus inside the cell. The spike protein of SARS-CoV-2 virus would be designed and synthesized in a suitable plasmid and transformation in a prokaryotic system. The immunogenicity potential of the plasmid DNA would be evaluated in suitable animal model in a dose ranging studies using different formulations. Once the proof-of-concept is established, preclinical toxicology studies would be taken up. Simultaneously, production of plasmid DNA would be scaled up and subsequently manufactured under cGMP conditions for clinical trials. The COVID-19 pandemic has been one of the major healthcare crises in recent times with over 3 million people being infected with the disease globally and 417,000 people succumbing to it. There is an urgent need to accelerate the development of vaccines, which will provide a long-term solution to the infection. Zydus is developing an effective DNA vaccine against SARS-CoV-2 infection. It also has the necessary infrastructure and capabilities to manufacture large quantities of the vaccine. Recently, this candidate was recommended funding support under the DBT-BIRAC COVID Research Consortium via DBT’s National Biopharma Mission.
Contact Info: Dr Shirshendu Mukherjee (firstname.lastname@example.org); Dr Hafsa Ahmad, (nbm9@ birac.nic.in); Ms Ginny Bansal (email@example.com)
Supportive care for COVID-19 patients at home itself
The outbreak of Novel Coronavirus has brought the whole country to a standstill. New initiatives and efforts are being taken to fight this pandemic. Entrepreneurs and innovators across the country have responded quickly to the challenges posed by the COVID-19. The DBT’s Biotechnology Industry Research Assistance Council (DBT-BIRAC) is supporting a solution that seamlessly combines clinical telepresence technology, collaboration framework, and last-mile clinical network of doctors, nurses, therapists and phlebotomists. It enables doctor-driven specialty care to patients at home, reducing hospital visits and stays and providing all the facilities in the comfort of home. With the new system developed by Ubiqare Health Pvt Ltd., the patients can be cared for at home during most of the illness trajectory - from the asymptomatic stage to mild symptoms to moderate symptoms stage. This enables the hospital infrastructure to be leveraged for only those with severe symptoms. The governments have been taking a lot of measures to ensure that the hospitals are well equipped to serve those in need. This healthcare innovation ensures all the breeds of patients are taken care of well even if someone chose to stay at home and get treated.
How does it work for patients in different stages? l In the asymptomatic stage and mild symptoms stage, the patients’ health will be selfmonitored, and the data will be uploaded to the cloud for analysis by an algorithm. This analysis will further be reviewed by the doctor. Interventions for collecting lab samples for testing will be supported. Non-compliance to care protocols during quarantine will be detected and alerted. During this stage family members will also be monitored.
In the moderate stage, it will help in the shifting of the patients to a nearby isolation ward and be supported by the doctor over the telepresence platform.
For those with severe symptoms or patients with epidemiological risks, it will support in shifting them to hospital under specialists’ care. COVID-19 patients at home who are under care from Ubiqare will get:
Extension of care of Pulmonologist/Physician and interactive clinical telepresence;
Regular monitoring by IoT-enabled medical devices with cloud-based analytics on EHR;
Analytics-assisted Triaging and tele-consultation by Ubiqare Doctor/Pulmonologist/ Physician;
Sample collection or interventions by the last-mile clinical network/healthcare workers. The subscription for this health solution ranges from Rs. 15,000 to Rs 20,000 per month.
Contact info: Dr. Shirshendu Mukherjee (firstname.lastname@example.org); Dr. Hafsa Ahmad (nbm9@ birac.nic.in); Ms. Ginny Bansal (email@example.com)
SOP for testing COVID-19 samples at DBT-CDFD
The DBT’s Hyderabad -based Centre for DNA Fingerprinting and Diagnostics (CDFD) has drawn up a detailed standard operating procedures (SOP) for the COVID-19 testing facility set up at its campus. The institute is getting NasoPharyngeal swab samples from government hospitals from all the districts across the State of Telangana in south India. The document provides the detailed protocol to be followed to test them for COVID-19. The SOP has been made based on inputs from different recommendations by the World Health Organisation (WHO), United State’s Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the handbook prepared by the office of the Principal Scientific Advisor to the Government of India for COVID-19 testing in research laboratories. The document covers all aspects beginning from how the security guard of the Institute must receive the vehicle carrying samples at the entrance of the building to how the samples will be analysed and a report will be sent to the office of the district medical and health officer of the district from where the specific sample had come. It also gives clear protocol for how the biohazardous waste produced in the process should be handled and disposed of, how to sanitise the work and how to protect those engaged in the analysis from getting exposed to the virus.
DBT’s National Pharma Mission to fund a COVID-19 vaccine project
The current 2019 Novel Coronavirus (2019-nCoV or SARS-CoV-2) pandemic is unprecedented; the global response is drawing on the lessons learned from other disease outbreaks in the past. In the setting of a public health emergency, the development of a vaccine must balance manufacturing speed and technical feasibility with clinical safety and immunogenicity trial outcomes. Ultimately, the manufacturing must be scalable and the delivery simple to reach the maximum number of people in the shortest possible period. Considering all these requirements, Bharat Biotech International Ltd (BBIL), Hyderabad, and Thomas Jefferson University, USA have signed an agreement to develop a COVID-19 vaccine based on an inactivated Rabies virus platform. The DBT’s National Biopharma Mission will provide funding for the joint project under the DBT- BIRAC COVID-19 Research Consortia Initiative. Thomas Jefferson University has developed a Rhabdovirus-based vector that contains the S1 fragment of SARS-CoV-2 / COVID-19 spike glycoprotein. The recombinant rabies virus harbouring SARS-CoV-2 S1 fragment will be further inactivated using beta-propiolactone. The use of a Rhabdovirus vector for producing a vaccine is not new. It has been successfully used for many human vaccines. For instance, chemically inactivated Rabies Virus (RABV) vaccines are quite safe and are administered very widely to humans. The codon-optimized foreign genes in general, introduced between RABV N and P genes, have been found to be highly expressed and stable. The same platform is being used to develop several vaccines against epidemic and pandemic causing viruses like Ebola virus, Nipah virus, and other coronaviruses like SARS, MERS-CoV, etc. The rabies vaccine has decades of safe use across diverse populations. A proof of concept was demonstrated by protecting animal models based on challenge studies with the related MERS-CoV in two mouse models and alpacas (camelid). Long-term protection is expected since the RABV vaccine often provides life-long protection. Bharat Biotech International Ltd (BBIL), which is the world’s largest Rabies vaccine manufacturer, will take up complete development and commercialization of the vaccine into world markets. It will be involved in a full-fledged, end-to-end development of the COVID-19 vaccine candidate from laboratory scale work to full-scale GMP Manufacturing, pre-clinical evaluation of the safety of the vaccine and comprehensive clinical trials from Phase 1 to Phase 3, to achieve commercial licensure. Its vaccine facility has already received a project grant under BIRAC/ DBT Scheme from the Government of India for this vaccine. BBIL has so far commercialized 16 vaccines and has market authorization in over 65 countries. It is the major supplier of the Rotavirus (ROTAVAC®) and Oral polio vaccines (BIOPOLIO®) to India’s and World’s Expanded Program of Immunization (EPI). Globally, its products are registered in 33 countries and the products are being supplied to more than 115 countries. It has a track record of low-priced vaccines at a high supply.
DBT-IBSD augments COVID-19 testing facilities in Manipur and Mizoram
The DBT’s Institute of Bioresources and Sustainable Development (DBT-IBSD) has its head office in Imphal and has centres in Shillong, Gangtok, and Aizawl. It has been taking steps to help boost the capacity of the various States in the north eastern region of the country to meet the challenges posed by the COVID-19 pandemic that is sweeping across the world. It recently provided assistance in Manipur and Mizoram under the guidance of its Director, Prof. Pulok Kumar Mukherjee. In Manipur, it extended a helping hand to the COVID-19 testing centres at Jawaharlal Nehru Institute of Medical Sciences (JNIMS) and Regional Institute of Medical Sciences (RIMS) at Imphal to cope with a shortage of trained manpower. One Scientist Fellow, one Post-Doctoral Fellow and one research scholar under the guidance of Dr. Nanaocha Sharma, Scientist-E has been helping in JNIMS, while one Research Associate and one Senior Research Fellow under the guidance of Dr. Indira Devi, Scientist-D has been helping in RIMS. This is in addition to an earlier initiative, where DBT-IBSD had lent one RT-PCR and one RNA Extraction equipment to RIMS and one RT-PCR to JNIMS. Besides, it has distributed hand sanitizers, masks, face shields and drinking water to frontline workers and different quarantine centres located in Imphal west district and also involved in different other activities. In Mizoram, the Institute has provided one Real Time (RT) PCR equipment to Zoram Medical College in Aizawl. The equipment, along with consumables, was flown to the Mizoram capital from Imphal in a helicopter arranged by the Mizoram Government. The equipment has been lent at the request of the Government of Mizoram and the Zoram Medical College. The consignment was handed over to the Department of Science and Technology, Mizoram Government, by scientists and staff of the Aizawl centre of the IBSD. RT-PCR is one of the best methods for detecting, tracking and studying the novel coronavirus. Chief Minister of Mizoram, Mr. Zoramthanga expressed his gratitude to Union Minister for Science and Technology, Dr Harsh Vardhan, DBT Secretary, Dr Renu Swarup, DBT-IBSD Director and DBT-IBSD team in a series of tweets. Among other things, the Institute had also earlier lent one RT-PCR machine to the Government of Meghalaya in April 2020 for the testing facility at Tura.
Contact info: Prof. Pulok Kumar Mukherjee; Director, DBT-IBSD; Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
Dealing with the unknown during and beyond the pandemic – Webinar to bring together experts on mental health
For the eighth in the series of webinars COVID-19 Ask the Experts, DBT’s Translational Health Science and Technology Institute (THSTI), DBT-Wellcome Trust India Alliance, IAVI and Nature India brought together mental health experts to address issues related to mental health during and after the COVID-19 pandemic. Experts are of opinion that fear, worry, and stress are normal responses to perceived or real threats, more so during times when one is faced with imponderables such as COVID-19 and it is normal to be scared, worried or stressed in a pandemic. Alongside the fear of contracting the virus, everyone faced significant changes in a country-wide lockdown. People’s movement was restricted to help contain and reduce the spread of the virus. Working from home, temporary unemployment, online classes, and lack of physical contact with family members, friends, and colleagues have become the new realities. The impact of the pandemic and the lockdown on the most vulnerable groups has been deep and far-reaching. More than ever before, it has, therefore, become important that we look after our mental as well as our physical health. The webinar has broadly covered the following topics:
De-constructing fear, worry and stress during a pandemic;
Dealing with uncertainty and the new ‘normal’;
Stay home - only easy to hashtag?;
Impact of the crisis on the mental health of vulnerable groups, frontline health workers and journalists;
Mental health of those living with COVID-19 – patients and caregivers;
How has COVID changed mental health care? What would it look like post-COVID?
Definition of a support group now that we have to “socially” distance and
Role of technology in mental health care: opportunities and risks
Role of the government in mobilising support and resources for mental health care during and after the pandemic and
Mental health research – dealing with redefined research priorities, setbacks and related opportunities due to COVID-19.
Contact Info: Dr. Siuli Mitra (email@example.com)
DBT-NCCS crosses its first landmark with over 5000 samples tested for COVID-19
With growing COVID-19 cases, the DBT’s National Centre for Cell Science (NCCS), Pune, has started receiving huge number of COVID-19 samples from Pune and other districts of Maharashtra. Undaunted by this task, the team at DBT-NCCS accelerated and doubled its testing efforts and are now testing about two hundred samples per day. Within less than one and a half month of having started sample testing, this centre has crossed its first landmark by testing over 5000 samples. This has been possible only with the help of the tireless and diligent efforts of several scientists and technical and other staff who have been working long hours and seven days a week. A short video shared on the NCCS social media and website offers a glimpse into the activities of the diagnostics team. NCCS began testing samples for SARS-CoV-2 at the end of April 2020 to facilitate the ongoing COVID-19 surveillance. The Institute has repurposed some of the laboratories to serve as a testing centre, with extensive and speedy preparations made soon after it was approved as a diagnostics facility by the DBT, the Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR) and the Maharashtra State Government. Initially, fewer samples were sent to this centre from within the Pune district of Maharashtra. However, with Maharashtra being the worst affected state in India, a large number of samples are required to be tested every day.
Learn how game theory can be applied in understanding pandemics
A weekly ‘Data Science’ webinar series was organized by “Manav - The Human Atlas Initiative”, a collaborative project between DBT’s National Centre for Cell Science (NCCS), IISER-Pune and Persistent Systems was held on 11th June, 2020. The session on game theory was conducted by Dr M. V. Krishnasastry, Senior Scientist at the DBT-NCCS. The webinar was open to all and free. This gave science enthusiasts a glimpse into how game theory can be applied in real-life situations such as the current pandemic. This weekly webinar series was initiated to meaningfully engage students and other science enthusiasts in an interactive educative experience during the lockdown and help increase scientific awareness about how data science is used as a tool in health sciences and biology in general. It was kick-started at the end of April with a webinar on “R0: How scientists quantify the intensity of an outbreak”. This was followed by webinars on diverse topics, including “Data Science Approaches for Genomics and Pandemics”; “Biomedical NLP at Scale: Automated inference of Biological Networks”; “The Future Research Scientist in the Age of AI and Big Data”; and “When and Where to Divide to Conquer: Personalized Medicine using Systems and Machine-based Biology Approaches”. This series has been hugely successful having attracted well over a thousand registrations, mainly from students. The ‘Manav’ initiative, exemplary of a public-private partnership, is funded by the DBT, Government of India, and co-funded by Persistent Systems. It aimed to annotate the extensive data from the scientific literature related to the human body and to initiate steps towards creating a virtual human atlas eventually. The project will help students across India to learn how to comprehend and extract relevant information from scientific literature using a digital annotation tool. Students and researchers interested in participating can learn more from the project’s website (https://manav.gov.in/) and social media (Twitter: Manav Human Atlas & Facebook: MANAV Human Atlas). Crucial decisions, such as those required to protect the whole population in a pandemic, can be tricky and not the easiest for authorities to make. This is so because what may be best for the population as a whole may not necessarily be the best thing for individuals and vice versa. The game theory, which is typically used in economics, could help address this dilemma.
Contact info: Jyoti Rao (firstname.lastname@example.org)
Outreach: COVID-19 effort on testing at DBT’s inStem has reached a milestone
The DBT’s Institute for Stem Cell Science & Regenerative Medicine (InStem), Bengaluru has recently reached a milestone of 10,000 samples testing (May 29, 2020) since Day 1 of testing (i.e., April 13, 2020), with 500+ samples arriving from districts in Northern Karnataka and Bangalore itself. The level of commitment and support from the campus community has been outstanding especially the faculty members, young researchers, and technical and administrative staff who have volunteered for this work. The institute has done extensive testing for COVID-19. Since state healthcare systems are severely overburdened, many research institutions have stepped in to fill this gap by offering available infrastructure, skilled researchers, and resources.
Contact info: Amrita Tripathy (email@example.com)
Antiviral activity testing against SARS-CoV-2
To meet the growing need for the in vitro and in vivo antiviral assays for the new drug candidates/ test substance (TS), Regional Centre for Biotechnology (RCB) and Translational Health Science and Technology Institute (THSTI) have jointly decided to provide these tests. RCB will be providing in vitro antiviral test at non-cytotoxic concentration and THSTI will be providing In vivo assay for test substance showing the in vitro antiviral activity. SARS-CoV-2 cultures have been set up in the BSL-3 facility and are ready to help with the in vitro anti-viral assay for drugs/herbal extracts/formulations in the cell culture model at a non-cytotoxic concentration of the TS.
Contact Info: Dr Deepika Bhaskar (firstname.lastname@example.org)
DBT-ILS scientists for designing probiotics to control coronavirus
Researchers at the DBT’s Institute of Life Sciences (DBT-ILS), Bhubaneswar have proposed that the infection and transmission of severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV2), the causative agent for COVID-19 pandemic may be controlled by bioengineered probiotics expressing human angiotensinconverting enzyme 2 (ACE2). In a paper published in scientific journal Rio, a group of scientists led by Dr Shantibhusan Senapati noted that it has been experimentally proven that ACE2 binds to spike protein (SP) of SARS-CoV-2 making ACE2 as the entry receptor and said that this finding provides a strong rationale to target the SP-ACE2 interaction for developing therapeutics against SARS-CoV-2 infection. Epithelial cells of intestine, lung, kidney and blood vessels profoundly express ACE2. Lungs have been the most affected organ for SARS-CoV-2 infection, but the human intestinal tract has also been speculated to be an alternate infection route for this virus. Probiotics are known to control multiple gut-associated illnesses. Engineered probiotics expressing ACE2 could be a potential bio-remedy to neutralize SARS-CoV-2. In addition to inhibiting viral entry, the probiotics might also confer innate immunity and have beneficial effects that control the dysbiosis in the SARS-CoV-2-infected patients.
Contact details: Dr Shantibhusan Senapati (Scientist E); Dr Mamoni Dash (Communication Officer).
DBT-IBSD strengthens COVID-19 testing labs across northeast India
The DBT’s Institute of Bioresources and Sustainable Development (DBT-IBSD) has its head office in Imphal and three centres in Gangtok, Aizawl and Shillong, thus covering almost the entire north-east India. The main institute and its centres are actively contributing to the fight against the COVID-19 pandemic in their respective states by assisting ICMR-recognised COVID-19 testing centres there by providing equipment, facility, consumables, trained manpower and distributing Institute-made hand sanitizer to protect frontline COVID-19 warriors.
Contact details: Director, Prof. Pulok Kumar Mukherjee, PhD, FRSC, FNASc E-mail: director. email@example.com
DBT-ILS selected as biorepository for COVID-19 samples
The DBT’s Institute of Life Sciences (ILS), Bhubaneswar has been selected for the establishment of a biorepository for COVID-19 clinical samples. More than 25,000 tests have been conducted by ILS using its BSL 3 facility. The biorepository will collect, store and maintain clinical samples like throat swab, nasal swab, sputum, blood, urine and stool of COVID-19 patients and eventually use this as a resource for research and development activities related to COVID-19. The stored samples will be shared with academia, industry and commercial entities involved in the development of diagnostics, therapeutics and vaccines after scrutinizing the intent of the work and benefit to the society.
Contact details: Dr Shantibhusan Senapati (Scientist E); Dr Mamoni Dash (Communication Officer)
THSTI’s Bioassay lab completes testing for 10,000 COVID-19 samples
The Translational Health Science and Technology Institute (THSTI), Faridabad’s Bioassay Laboratory touched the 10,000 mark for COVID-19 testing on 2nd June 2020 having tested 10,271 samples. The DBT’s institute THSTI receives samples from four districts of Haryana including Palwal (Civil Hospital), Gurugram (Civil Hospital and SGT Hospital), Nuh (Mandikhera Civil Hospital) and Faridabad (ESIC Hospital and Al-Falah Hospital). Following ICMR’s approval, THSTI’s Bioassay Laboratory was designated a COVID-19 testing laboratory in April. The Faridabad-based institute is the only DBT-funded lab designated for COVID-19 testing in the state. The team at THSTI is led by Dr. Guruprasad Medigeshi and has currently got about ten young researchers and scientists working.
Contact details: Dr. Siuli Mitra (firstname.lastname@example.org)
DBT-NCCS tests over 1000 samples for COVID-19 in under a week
The National Centre for Cell Science (NCCS) Pune, an autonomous institution of the DBT, Government of India, began testing samples for SARS-CoV-2 at the end of April 2020 to facilitate the ongoing COVID-19 surveillance. NCCS repurposed some of the laboratories to serve as a testing centre with extensive and speedy preparations soon after it was approved as a diagnostics facility by the DBT, the Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR) and the Maharashtra State Government. Initially, fewer samples were sent to this centre from within the Pune district of Maharashtra. However, with Maharashtra being the worst affected state in India, a large number of samples are required to be tested every day. Undaunted by this task, the team at NCCS accelerated and doubled its efforts and is now testing over two hundred samples per day from other districts of Maharashtra as well. NCCS tested over a thousand samples in less than a week recently and has tested more than 3000 samples in a little over a month. The tireless and diligent efforts of scientists, technical and other staff have played a big role in this endeavour. A short video shared on the NCCS social media and website offers a glimpse into the activities of the diagnostics team.
COVID-19 testing effort at inStem – 10,000 samples and counting…
Institute for Stem Cell Science & Regenerative Medicine (InStem) and National Centre for Biological Sciences (NCBS), Bengaluru have responded promptly to the unprecedented and urgent public health crisis by setting up a testing laboratory that contributes to almost 10% of Karnataka’s COVID-19 testing capacity. The testing laboratory started on April 13, 2020 and reached a milestone of 10,000 on May 29, 2020. About 500 or more samples from various districts of Karnataka are being tested at the laboratory on daily basis. The level of commitment and support from the campus community has been outstanding. Faculty, young researchers, technical and administrative staff and laboratory support services have come forward to volunteer at all levels to implement the measures, working relentlessly for 14-16 hours a day throughout the week. The rapidity with which the COVID-19 pandemic engulfed the entire world is alarming, to say the least. Understanding the spread by extensive widespread testing along with other measures emerged as an important step in the management of the pandemic. Since the state healthcare system is severely overburdened, research institutions have stepped in to fill this gap by offering available infrastructure, skilled researchers and resources.
COVID-19 outreach efforts at DBT’s inStem
The third session of the COVID Gyan Web Gyan series was done by Dr Manu Prakash of Stanford University. Dr Prakash started his talk with the classic example of the 1815 volcanic eruption of Mt Tambora and its aftermath that prompted the invention of bicycle. Institute for Stem Cell Science & Regenerative Medicine (inStem) is one of the founding partners of COVID Gyan, a pan-institutional website that has been proactive in COVID-19 outreach efforts. The COVID-19 pandemic has thrust the world into a global public health crisis. Dr Prakash elaborated on how scientists can navigate their new roles and responsibilities in these trying times. He also presented anecdotes from the global contribution and collaborative efforts at his laboratory, Prakash Lab, for combating COVID-19. He stated that as a conventional lab focused on developing frugal science-based solutions for medical problems in resourceconstrained environments using open source platform, his lab members are now putting their efforts to explore innovative ways of tackling the nuanced requirements in face of COVID-19 emergency. Furthermore, he spoke about ‘pufferfish’ (an open source to design simple, easy to assemble, cost effective ventilators for COVID-19) pnuemasks and N95 mask packaging. He also explained how a cotton candy machine working on simple rules of physics is used in his lab to create special fabric for N95 masks. The audience actively engaged in the session as Dr Prakash enthusiastically addressed their questions with gusto. The 90 minutes’ session was live streamed on COVID Gyan YouTube channel, with nearly 180 participants from India and across the globe. The session was moderated by Prof. Rajesh Gopakumar, ICTS-Bangalore and Prof. Arnab Bhattacharya, TIFR-Mumbai. This session was recorded on May 28, 2020 and can be watched here: https://www.youtube.com/ watch?v=XumUfL5CZ4M.
DBT-NCCS tests over 2000 samples for SARS-CoV-2 in a month
Given the highly communicable nature of COVID-19, testing as many people as possible is crucial for controlling its spread and for appropriate management of the disease in the population. A large number of samples are required to be tested every day in Maharashtra as it is the worst affected state in the country. To facilitate this ongoing COVID-19 surveillance, the National Centre for Cell Science (DBT-NCCS) in Pune, an autonomous institution of the DBT, Government of India, was identified as one of the Government labs designated to carry out testing. DBT-NCCS began testing samples for SARS-CoV-2 towards the end of April, 2020 with samples received from Pune district. However, ten days into testing, samples were sent to this centre from other districts of Maharashtra as well, causing a huge surge in the number of samples to be tested. Undaunted by this task, the team at DBT-NCCS accelerated and doubled its efforts. Consequently, more than a hundred samples are being tested every day. Over 2,000 samples have been tested by this centre in less than a month. DBT-NCCS, which is primarily involved in conducting basic research in cell biology, made extensive and speedy preparations to begin functioning as a diagnostics centre soon after it was approved as a diagnostics facility by the DBT, the Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR) and the Maharashtra State Government. This included reorganization of some of the research laboratories, procurement of supplies like PPE and kits, formulating and validating a standard operating procedure (SOP), getting technical and scientific staff trained at ICMR-NIV for COVID-related biosafety measures and sample testing, registering the facility with the appropriate authorities, and conducting mock testing. The tireless and diligent efforts of several scientists and technical and other staff have played a big role in this endeavour. A short video shared on the NCCS social media and website offers a glimpse into the activities of the diagnostics team. Furthermore, DBT-NCCS has also contributed to COVID-19 surveillance by providing assistance to other research organizations for setting up testing centres on their respective campuses. This includes IISERPune, which recently began operations, as well as ARI, and CSIR-NCL. With accelerated efforts, DBT-NCCS has tested over 2000 samples for COVID-19 in less than a month’s time.
Artwork to demystify COVID-19
An artwork has been prepared by Michelle Ninochka D’Souza, a PhD student in the DBT’s Institute for Stem Cell Science & Regenerative Medicine (inStem) on COVID-19. D’Souza is part of Ravi Muddashetty’s lab at the Centre for Neurodevelopmental Synaptopathies (CNS) in the Institute. DBT-inStem is one of the founding partners of COVID Gyan, a pan-institutional website that has been proactive in COVID-19 outreach efforts. One of the many efforts of COVID Gyan website is weeding out myths. Infographics and artworks play a significant role in this pursuit.
COVID Gyan holds a sundowner session on ‘Pandemic Parenting’
COVID Gyan, a pan-institutional website set up by the DBT-inStem, in collaboration with several other organisations, has been proactive in COVID-19 outreach efforts. It aims to create public awareness about COVID-19 (through infographics, posters, research articles, podcasts/ videos, etc.) and provides support to the wider community during this crisis. The Sundowner Sessions conducted in collaboration with Bangalore Life Science Cluster (BLiSc) every week, focuses on various topics relevant to the current scenario. On May 21, a Sundowner Session was organised focused on the topic ‘Pandemic Parenting’, relevant to many in the community. The guest speakers were Prof. K.V. Subrahmanyam of Chennai Mathematical Institute (CMI) and Prof Vidita Vaidya of Tata Institute of Fundamental Research (TIFR), Mumbai. Rukmini Kumar Chawla, author and editor at Penguin Books and Nadiya Abbas, an eminent psychologist cum counsellor were the moderators of this session. There were nearly 70 participants from across the country and overseas. They narrated their stories and the speakers addressed how parenting is transforming and adapting during the pandemic, what are the challenges faced at home by kids of various age groups, and how to build empathy among the future generation for a better world. The 90-minutes discussion also delved into the concerns of children with special needs at home. The session saw participation from teenagers, their parents, and teachers who described their lockdown experience, and discussed the pros and cons of online education.
DBT-CDFD to undertake a genomic study on COVID-19
The DBT’s Centre for DNA Fingerprinting and Diagnostics (DBT-CDFD) has proposed to undertake a genomic study on the ongoing outbreak of COVID-19 in India. This study is being coordinated by National Institute of Biomedical Genomics (NIBMG), along with active participation from DBT-CDFD, DBT-National Centre for Biological Sciences (NCBS), DBT-Institute for Stem Cell Science and Regenerative Medicine (InStem), DBT-National Centre for Cell Science (NCCS) and DBT-Institute of Life Sciences (ILS). CDFD proposes to do a prospective study to sequence the SARS-CoV-2 genome from individuals testing positive for the infection. Efforts pertaining to sequencing of viral genomes from different parts of the country have been initiated under this programme.
DBT-THSTI’s Bioassay lab tests 6,980 COVID-19 samples
The DBT’s Translational Health Science and Technology Institute (DBT-THSTI)’s Bioassay Laboratory has tested 6,980 samples as on 20th May 2020 with samples coming from districts of Palwal (Civil Hospital), Gurugram (Civil Hospital), Nuh (Mandikhera Civil Hospital) and Faridabad (ESIC Hospital). Following ICMR’s approval, DBTTHSTI’s Bioassay Laboratory was designated a COVID-19 testing laboratory. The Faridabad-based institute is the only DBT funded lab designated for COVID-19 testing in the state. The team led by Dr. Guruprasad Medigeshi, Professor at DBT-THSTI and Bioassay Laboratory Director, has also trained staff from Faridabad’s ESI hospital and Hasan Khan Mewati General Medical College, Nalhar, Nuh (HKMGMC) to enable them to test samples in the respective diagnostic departments. ESI hospital has been assisted for infrastructure development. The team from THSTI helped to operationalize a lab for COVID-19 diagnosis at ESI hospital to handle the increased number of tests to be conducted in Faridabad. A total of eight researchers from ESIC and HKMGMC have been trained to carry out testing, RNA extraction, running Real-Time-PCR assays, analysing data and final reporting.
DBT-RGCB developing therapeutics against COVID-19
KRIBS BioNest, the bioincubation centre of the DBT’s Rajiv Gandhi Centre for Biotechnology (RGCB), housing 30 Biotechnology start-ups has introduced several products to combat COVID-19. In addition, M/s. Avisa Biotech Pvt Ltd is developing marine extracellular polysaccharides as a potential therapeutics against the disease. Drugs against COVID-19 are the need of the hour. One candidate is a broad-spectrum extracellular polysaccharide (EPS) of marine protists. Carageenan, a similar marine polysaccharide, has been developed as a nasal spray against rhinitis, sinusitis, Influenza A and Influenza B viruses. The target organisms for the polysaccharides are Thraustochytrids, a group of single-celled, marine, heterotrophic algae. The broad-spectrum antiviral properties of several strains of these microorganisms have been demonstrated against entero-, cytomegalo-, adeno-, Hepatitis C, Influenza, Respiratory Syncytial and Herpes Viruses, using in-vitro assays. An Indian patent has been filed and is under review. Many Thraustochytrids can be grown rapidly in bioreactors to yield high biomass and yields of EPS, making the product highly inexpensive. Researchers in the Institute have successfully grown a strain of Thraustochytrids in pilot scale 20L Fermenter at RGCB-Bionest, Kochi and have been able to extract considerable amount of EPS. In-vitro studies followed by complete chemical characterization to identify active moieties are planned. These polysaccharides can be developed as a nasal spray to prevent COVID-19 infection to protect medical workers as well as individuals at risk of being exposed. Further toxicity studies in animal models are planned to develop it as a broad-spectrum oral drug and nasal spray.
DBT-IBSD distributes sanitizers, facemasks to quarantine centres and frontline workers in Manipur
The DBT’s Institute of Bioresources and Sustainable Development (DBT-IBSD) has distributed locally made hand sanitizers, bottled drinking water, 3-layered masks and face shields to different COVID-19 Community Quarantine Centres (CQCs) and other frontliners in Imphal West. The initiative of free distribution of the above items was taken by DBT-IBSD to help meet the shortage of supplies faced due to the sudden influx of stranded returnees. The items were distributed to CQCs of Johnstone Higher Secondary School, Manipur College, Pishumthong, Jawahar Navodaya Vidyalaya Khumbong, Imphal West Police, Singjamei PS and Patsoi PS. The locally made face shields and hand sanitizers were distributed to Primary Health Centre (PHC), Khumbong. IBSD had also earlier lent one Real-Time-PCR to JNIMS and other consumables for testing COVID-19 to State Health Department. One RT-PCR and RNA Extraction equipment was also lent to RIMS. Moreover, IBSD also distributed hand sanitizers to few media persons, police and sanitary workers of Imphal Municipal Council, just before the announcement of the lockdown.
DBT-BIRAC to support study on efficiency of a recombinant BCG candidate vaccine against COVID-19
The COVID-19 pandemic is rapidly worsening in all parts of the world, overwhelming health systems with demand for care that exceeds deliverable capacity and is compounded by high disease rates among healthcare staff. SARS-CoV-2 vaccines are many months away from widespread mass deployability. A recombinant BCG may act to ameliorate disease severity and mitigate transmission. Even moderate individual efficacy can have dramatic impact at population level directly (by reducing severe disease burden on health systems) and possibly indirectly (transmission reduction). This would thereby help sustain health systems through the rapidly increasing crisis, using a safe, affordable and available vaccine. Serum Institute of India Pvt Ltd (SIIPL) was awarded funding support under DBT’s National Biopharma Mission for the phase III clinical trials of a recombinant BCG vaccine candidate for COVID-19. SIIPL has proposed to conduct a multisite, randomized, double-blinded, placebocontrolled trial to demonstrate the efficacy of recombinant BCG VPM1002 in reducing infection incidence and severe disease outcomes of COVID-19 among (1) high risk persons of advanced age or co-morbidities; and (2) high-exposure healthcare workers. Several nonclinical and clinical studies have been completed with VPM1002 in infants, adults and in HIVexposed infants. The results acquired so far from various studies demonstrate that VPM1002 is much safer and probably more efficacious than the standard BCG.
DBT-BIRAC-supported start up comes out with fully automated hand hygiene device
Good hand hygiene is the first line of defence against diseases and other infections. At a time when the entire world is fighting against COVID-19, effective hand hygiene is one of the most prominent tools to control its spread. WHO and several other international organisations across the world have been emphasising on maintaining hand hygiene. The underlying rule is simple – wash your hands for 20 seconds at least. At this crucial time when COVID-19 has been declared a pandemic, a lot of start-ups are stepping in as providers of potential COVID solutions to help healthcare professionals. BIRACsupported start-up MicroGO has come up with an innovation called GoassureTM which is an IOT-enabled fully automated hand hygiene device that digitalizes the hand hygiene process. The patent-pending technology assures minimum manual intervention and effort while maximising automation and hygiene. This innovation has a simple motto, “Clean hands, save lives”. The product has an innovative design and is made of good durable material considering human safety operations. The innovation is literally plug-and-play with the product being very easy to install. The smart hand hygiene station assures that the users perform hand 15 hygiene as per the WHO recommended six steps of hand hygiene and notify the variation (or non-compliance) to the authorities/health officer/managers. The product is automated and contactless and is backed by real-time data monitoring. This innovation has three variants: • GoassureTM - K series Motion-based hand hygiene • GoassureTM - P series Specialized tags-based hand hygiene with compliance monitoring • GoassureTM -O series Opportunity vs. Usage-based hand hygiene monitoring with advanced compliance management and surveillance. The product has already been deployed at several airports and the company is in the process to deploying more of these at other airports to assure that hand hygiene is the utmost priority.
DBT-NIBMG, researchers exploring a new therapy for COVID-19
Dr Sreedhar Chinnaswamy, Intermediate Fellow of Wellcome-DBT India Alliance and Associate Professor at the DBT’s National Institute of Biomedical Genomics (NIBMG) has been working from the last few years to understand the significance of a new class of Interferons (IFNs) called the Lambda IFNs (IFNLs, also referred to as type III IFNs) in human health and disease. IFNs are proteins released by cells in response to invading pathogens, mainly viruses. The IFNLs are important regulators of host innate immunity and are highly active at the epithelial surfaces that include large tracts of respiratory, intestinal, reproductive and also skin tissue. A deficiency of Lambda IFNs causes severe pathology in respiratory viral infections in experimental mice models. Even in the present SARS-CoV-2 infections, a significant role for them is envisaged and a Lambda IFN therapy as a cure for the infection is being discussed (Fig. 1).
Ritonavir may inhibit exoribonuclease activity of nsp14 from the SARS-CoV-2 virus and potentiate the activity of chain terminating drugs
Computational studies carried out at the DBT’s Regional Centre for Biotechnology (RCB), Faridabad suggests that the HIV-1 protease inhibitor named ritonavir might bind to the exoribonuclease active site of the nsp14 protein, prevent association with substrate viral RNA and thus inhibit the proofreading activity of nsp14. The nsp14 is known to attenuate the inhibitory effect of drugs that function through premature termination of viral genome replication. Hence, ritonavir may potentiate the therapeutic properties of drugs such as remdesivir, favipiravir and ribavirin. A recent clinical study involving lopinavir-ritonavir, ribavirin and interferon beta-1b supports the idea that ritonavir can enhance activity of chain terminating drugs. The ability of ritonavir to enhance the activity of remdesivir/ favipiravir may be tested at the earliest in vitro and in vivo and clinical trials may be initiated to assess if the combination results in improved clinical outcomes, especially in patients with severe COVID-19 disease. SARS-CoV-2 is the causative agent for the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, and the nsp14 protein of this virus houses a 3’ to 5’ exoribonuclease activity. This activity is responsible for proofreading progeny RNA and removes errors that arise during genome duplication.
Contact info: Dr Deepika Bhaskar; email@example.com
Incubatee ‘Shine Biotech Pvt. Ltd’ at BBB selected for DBTBIRAC grant for COVID-19 research
To urgently develop safe and effective biomedical solutions against SARS-CoV-2, the DBT and Biotechnology Industry Research Assistance Council (BIRAC) had invited applications for COVID-19 Research Consortium. Through a rolling multitiered review mechanism, 70 proposals on devices, diagnostics, vaccine candidates, therapeutics and other interventions were recommended for receiving financial support. The shortlisted proposals included 10 vaccines candidates, 34 diagnostics products or scale-up facilities, 10 therapeutics options, 02 proposals on drug repurposing and 14 projects which were categorised as preventive interventions. Incubatee Company at BSC BioNEST Bio-Incubator, Regional Centre for Biotechnology (RCB), Shine Biotech Pvt. Ltd., was selected to receive financial support for ensuring there is no shortage of indigenous diagnostic kits in the near future.
Contact info: Dr Deepika Bhaskar; firstname.lastname@example.org
IBSD teams up with Meghalaya Government for establishing COVID-19 testing at Tura, Shillong
In an effort to establish a COVID-19 diagnostics facility at Tura, Shillong, the DBT’s autonomous centre, the Institute of Bioresources and Sustainable Development (IBSD), Imphal has provided an RT-PCR machine, a refrigerated centrifuge and two deep freezers along with technical support and orientation for use of such equipment. The equipments have been handed over to the state team of doctors and laboratory technicians, who have also been trained to handle the equipments meant for COVID-19 testing at the Microbiology Department of North Eastern Indira Gandhi Regional Institute of Health and Medical Sciences (NEIGHRIHMS). The Tura facility is being made at Government Civil Hospital and it has come about by online and virtual co-ordination between the teams of Commissioner and Secretary, Health, Government of Meghalaya and the Director IBSD. Dr Albert Chiang, Scientist at IBSD, is coordinating with the Meghalaya Heath Department in this matter. Most of the equipment have been delivered and installed at Tura over the last two weeks and the facility would be ready to start testing in a few days.
IBSD shared the essential equipment in the earlier interim period, to rapidly fill up the gap brought about by the global supply chain crisis of equipment and consumables during COVID-19 pandemic and the subsequent lockdown. 12 Prof. Pulok K Mukherjee, Director IBSD, has extended his appreciation to the Meghalaya Heath Department for working tirelessly in their battle against COVID-19 and also assured full support from IBSD to the State for any other scientific endeavours in this current COVID-19 crisis. The DBT’s IBSD has been working with the Meghalaya Health Department to setup this COVID-19 diagnostics facility at Tura, which is more than 300 km from NEIGRIHMS, Shillong, presently the lone COVID-19 testing centre of Meghalaya. In similar efforts, IBSD has been providing both equipment and consumables support to several COVID-19 testing facilities across the North eastern region, such as JNIMS, Government of Manipur; RIMS, Imphal, Government of India; NEIGHRIHMS, Shillong, Government of India; Zoram Medical College, Government of Mizoram and Pasteur Institute, Government of Meghalaya.
Drug repositioning to fast-track drug discovery against COVID-19: THSTI’s team efforts
Scientists at DBT’s Faridabad-based Translational Health Science and Technology Institute (THSTI) have been working on repositioning drugs to act against SARS-CoV-2. Dr. Shailendra Asthana and his team used molecular dynamics (MD) simulations to find out a computational model of the drug binding site. They used the model for virtual screening to facilitate the rapid identification of potent molecules. The findings on identification of potential molecules against COVID-19 main protease through the structure-guided virtual screening approach have been published in the Journal of Biomolecule Structure and Dynamics and may provide an opportunity to explore these compounds for anti-COVID-19 therapeutics. Hydroxychloroquine, Remdesivir, and others are not new but in news almost every day now. Why? SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19, has allowed the scientists, clinicians and governments very little time to respond. On the stake are billions of lives. This very little time is strategically being used for developing rapid tests and vaccines which otherwise take 5 to 15 or more years. Usually, developing a new drug for a disease too takes about 10 years, but drug repositioning is an approach that finds a new purpose for a drug by tailoring its composition and dosage to cure a different disease than it was originally meant for. Cases in point are hydroxychloroquine, an anti-malarial drug and remdesivir, originally developed against hepatitis C, which are among the most mentioned ones.
THSTI’s biorepository steps up to COVID-19 challenge: A national bioresource for COVID-19 studies
DBT-THSTI’s biorepository, a core facility, has risen to the COVID-19 challenge posed to the Indian scientific community and is set to support clinical and translational research as a national bioresource. The biorepository was founded to cater to the GARBHIni programme of DBT’s at Faridabad-based institute and other intramural and extramural maternal and child health research projects. The Institute’s reconstitution last year threw the challenge of opening up to other programmes in the NCR Biotech Science Cluster. It turned out to be beneficial as the core facility was well equipped to step up to the COVID-19 challenge. The goal that the biorepository is working towards is the development of a national resource of well-phenotyped clinical samples to enable research on COVID-19. This will support researchers to conduct seroepidemiology, immunology, and diagnostic studies with highquality and well-characterized clinical samples.
Samples will be made available for the validation and discovery phase of vaccine and diagnostics development. The repository will comprise of longitudinally-collected biospecimens from enrolled participants at three time points within a year, including convalescent samples post infection. Currently, samples are being collected from nine different hospitals. Building technical teams to process and store infectious samples as per the global and national guidelines is also a focus and a step forward in capacity building at the biorepository. The data management team at the Institute is taking care of data entry and curation along with the biorepository teams. The GARBH-Ini team is working with other clinical research teams to enable the clinical activities of DBT and BIRAC’s COVID research consortium for developing diagnostics, vaccines, and therapeutics against COVID. “It has been more than two weeks that @Garbhinicohort teams have been on the frontline for COVID activities. Their dedication and urge to contribute is admirable. It keeps us going,” tweeted Prof. Shinjini Bhatnagar from THSTI.
DBT-NIBMG scientists study the evolution of Coronavirus
COVID-19 is a pandemic which has spread across the globe. Viruses are known to mutate over a period of time. Scientists at the DBT’s National Institute of BioMedical Genomics (DBTNIBMG), Kalyani, have investigated how SARS-CoV-2 has evolved with the progression of the pandemic across countries over time. They examined 3,636 viral sequences submitted to public databases from 55 countries and 45 genomes from India. They found that the virus has evolved into 10 other types apart from the ancestral O type which was found in Wuhan, China. Out of these the A2a type has emerged as the dominant type in every geographical region. The A2a type was found to harbour a mutation which makes it easier for it to enter into lung cells, perhaps leading to increased ability to cause infection and survive in the host. These results will help in streamlining the efforts being put in across the world for vaccine development for the virus. Further, the impact of host genome on the disease severity remains to be evaluated. The figure shows the evolutionary relationship between the 3636 RNA of SARS-CoV-2 and their transmission information.
Contact info: Dr Partha Pratim Majumder; ppm1@ nibmg.ac.in
DBT-BIRAC clears proposal for a COVID-19 diagnostic Kit
The DBT and its public sector undertaking Biotechnology Research Industry Research Council (BIRAC) have selected Yaathum Biotech Pvt Ltd for funding support under DBT’s National Biopharma Mission for indigenous development and validation of a real-time RT-PCR-based molecular test for COVID-19 diagnosis. The Company has been selected for funding under the COVID-19 Research consortium call given by DBT and BIRAC to support Diagnostics, Vaccines, Novel Therapeutics, Repurposing of Drugs or any other intervention for control of the coronavirus pandemic. There is immense need for expansion in testing because epidemiologists estimate that for every case identified three unidentified cases might be at large, and it has become evident worldwide that effective and prompt COVID-19 control demands aggressive and extensive testing in hotspots, contact tracing and focus on high-risk target groups alongside lockdown measures. Yaathum’s test is based on quantitative reverse transcription polymerase chain reaction (qRTPCR) technology which is recommended as the gold standard confirmatory test by WHO for COVID-19 diagnosis. It can rapidly and promptly detect the virus from the early stage of infection itself unlike alternate technologies used for testing which can detect only after 8 days of infection making them less reliable for diagnostic settings and requiring an additional confirmatory test. The test assay is designed for detection of nucleic acid (RNA) specific to SARS-CoV-2 virus in patients’ respiratory specimens in two hours and at a fraction of current cost of testing. It is a nucleic acid amplification test (NAAT). The technical highlight of the test is that it targets three independent regions or genes in the SARS-CoV-2 viral genome while most commercial tests available globally target one or two regions only.
This is significant for avoiding false results due to non-specific interference or detection of other SARS 2003 and Bat SARS-like virus strains. It will be possible to incorporate more assays into this test for predicting drug response simultaneously in future. Viral RNA isolated from any of the respiratory specimens such as nasopharyngeal swabs, sputum, lower respiratory tract aspirates and nasopharyngeal wash/ aspirate can be a sample for the test. Viral RNA is reverse transcribed to cDNA and subsequently amplified and detected using RT mastermix and qPCR assays and any qPCR platform. Fluorescence intensity is monitored by the instrument in real-time and fluorescent signal crossing the threshold confirms detection of nucleic acid and in turn positive result for the virus. The absence of signal is interpreted as a negative result. It must always be interpreted alongside clinical observations and patient epidemiological data. It is highly sensitive with the ability to detect less than 10 copies of the genome in a reaction. Most of the components have been developed indigenously which has made the test highly cost effective. The test is being offered at Rs. 1,000 per patient and can be further brought down to less than Rs. 800 on large-scale production. After validation it can be readily deployed in all the government authorized RT-PCR testing labs for COVID-19 across the country. This can significantly help ramp up COVID-19 testing in India and in meeting the huge demand for test kits, especially indigenous ones.
Contact info: Dr Hafsa Ahmad; email@example.com
Fast Track Review and funding support under COVID-19 fund
The DBT-BIRAC has constituted a Fast track Internal Review Committee to identify and provide fast-track support to suitable biotech proposals to facilitate development of products to address the challenges of COVID-19 pandemic. The Committee in its first meeting on 16th April recommended funding support to 2 start-ups: Aarna Biomedical Products for Surakhsha Full Body Coverage Kit and Alpha Corpuscles for Face Shield. A cofunding partner IKP Knowledge Park was also approved to support up to 15 Startups. After the last review meeting, the 2nd and 3rd Internal Review Committee Meetings were held on 21st April 2020 and 26th April 2020, respectively. Funding Support has also been extended to:
• Cistron Systems for PSA Medical Oxygen Generators;
• Stasis Health Pvt Ltd for Stasis-Remote Monitoring System for COVID-19; Cistron Systems’s PSA oxygen generators are an independent source to produce medical oxygen on-site. This reduces the dependency of supply of oxygen for a hospital from vendors and complex cylinder logistics in times of an emergency. Stasis brings state-of-the-art Remote Patient Monitoring to any care setting – hospitals, homes and even hotels. It is an FDA-cleared remote monitoring system.
• Reduced staff exposure to infection with remote patient monitoring;
• Plug-&-Play solution for deployment in any care setting; and
• Better utilization of limited staff resources- Reduction of PPE use by eliminating manual monitoring.
Funding support under COVID-19 fund
In order to identify, empower and fast-track innovations for COVID-19 control, IKP Knowledge Park has put together an IKP COVID Fund and has further proposed to BIRAC for matching grant support to fasttrack deployment of solutions for control of COVID-19. The same has been approved for funding 10- 15 start-ups. Till now, funding support has been extended to these start-ups: l Parisodhana Technologies Pvt Ltd for Hybrid multiply face mask; l Turtle Shell Technologies Pvt. Ltd. for Dozee; and l Monitra Healthcare Pvt Ltd for UpBeat. Parisodhana Technologies is working towards developing a substitute for N95 respirator manufactured using filtration media offering high particulate (>90%) and bacterial filtration efficiency (>99%) while ensuring high breathability, comfort and convenience in tropical conditions through pure hand woven cotton contact materials. The filtration media is certified for PPE and final product is under evaluation at SITRA, Coimbatore.
Monitra Healthcare Pvt Ltd’s UpBeat is a solution that allows remote monitoring of an individual’s critical parameters – ECG, Respiration rate, pulse rate/heart rate, SpO2 and temperature. Monitra upBeat is the most advanced bio-sensing platform which makes remote monitoring comfortable and easy. It would help significantly in reducing the risk of exposure for healthcare workers. Dozee by Turtle Shell Technologies is one-of-its-kind innovations in the preventive and home healthcare sector in Indian landscape. This product is a contact-free healthcare monitor and personal health companion that monitors heart health, respiration, sleep cycles as well as stress level with very high accuracy. This product requires no technical expertise to set up and is very simple to use as well as provides high fidelity data at the same time. All that is required is to place the thin sensor sheet below the mattress and sleep. Dozee helps to manage sleep apnea, track heart health and respiration, monitor stress levels and provides for daily, weekly and monthly reports.
DBT-ILS starts whole genome sequencing of coronavirus
The Department of Biotechnology’s Bhubaneswar-based Institute of Life Sciences (DBT-ILS) has started the whole genome sequencing of coronavirus and is targeting to report sequences of nearly 200 virus genomes as a part of the DBT consortium, which is aiming to report 1,000 viruses by June. The Institute is also continuing to test corona samples with dedicated efforts of scientists and students. It continues adding to the services adhering to all safety guidelines. It has successfully completed 15,940 tests accounting for nearly 20% of the tests conducted in Odisha. The samples received at ILS were spread across 16 districts. The results are being disseminated to ICMR in a timely manner for further follow-up actions.
Contact info: Dr Ajay K Parida; firstname.lastname@example.org
Convalescent Plasma: Potential therapy for COVID-19
Research on convalescent plasma therapy for COVID-19 is set to get aboost with the Department of Biotechnology (DBT) and its public sector enterprise Biotechnology Research Industry Research Council (BIRAC) clearing a proposal fromVirchow Biotech Pvt Ltd for support to work on the therapy under DBT’s National Biopharma Mission. DBT and BIRAC had recently announced a COVID-19 Research Consortium call to support diagnostics, vaccines, novel therapeutics, repurposing of drugs or any other interventionfor control of COVID-19. The first phase of the call closed on 30th March 2020; the review is ongoing. Virchow Biotech had submitted the proposal under the call. Hyderabad-based Virchow Biotech has been commercially manufacturing intravenousimmunoglobulin (IVIG) from human plasma since 2013 in a WHO-approved and dedicated plasma fractionation cGMP facility. Currently, they have the capacity to process over 300,000 litres of plasma annually. They are one of the largest manufacturers of human IVIG and human serum albumin in India. They are also the first company in India to identify Immunoglobulin Therapy, which can prove to be more promising as compared to direct plasma administration. Direct plasma therapy has several safety, efficacy and specificity concerns. Single transfusion might not be sufficient and transfer of other blood components may pose inadvertent risks. The sterility and specificity of intravenous immunoglobulins will help to prevent these risks and keep track of administered dosage. The proposed immunotherapy procedure already has got necessary approvals in place from Drug Controller General of India; Central Drugs Standards Control Organization and funding from BIRAC. The company plans to start its clinical trials for the same very soon. The company has proposed to collect plasma from several human convalescent donors, in order to prepare standardized immunoglobulin enriched for anti-COVID antibodies with a 6 specific titer. Immunoglobulin treatment is increasingly recognized to treat a variety of diseases not just because of its ability to fight the infection but also due to its immunomodulatory and immunosuppressive activities. In the absence of other proventherapies, it is expected that these immunoglobulins will prove crucial in reducing themorbidity from the COVID-19 infection potentially saving valuable human lives.
Contact info: Dr Hafsa Ahmad (Email:email@example.com); Ms Ginny Bansal (Email:firstname.lastname@example.org)
COVID testing facility at DBT-CDFD, Hyderabad
A short video on the effort is being made by the DBT’s Hyderabad-based Centre for DNA Fingerprinting and Diagnostics (DBT-CDFD) towards fighting theCOVID-19 pandemic in the form of a COVID testing facility, where a team of dedicated volunteers are involved in testing sample round the clock.
Contact details: Varsha, Staff Scientist & HeadScience Communication (E-mail: scom@cdfd. org.in)
DBT ties up with A.P. MedTech Zone to augment critical medical equipment production
DBT has joined hands with Andhra Pradesh MedTech Zone (AMTZ) to develop a strategy to address the shortage of critical medical equipment in India and move progressively towards a stage of self-sufficiency. AMTZ at Vishakapatnam is an established medical equipment manufacturing ecosystem and is a pioneer department within the Government of India to promote the medical technologies sector in the country. It is Asia’s first medical equipment manufacturing ecosystem, uniquely dedicated for Medtech. The new collaboration named DBT AMTZ COMManD [COVID Medtech Manufacturing Development] strategy would be supported under DBT’s National Biopharma Mission.
The strategy has 3 focal points: 1. Helping start-ups and innovators supported by DBT/BIRAC and AMTZ in the area of medical technologies with subsidised infrastructure for testing and validation, facilities for prototyping, adequate start-up space and facilitation of market access. 2. Provision of financial assistance for investment in plant and machinery so that there is a rapid scale-up of infrastructure and production capabilities. Many medical device manufacturers have the potential to make critical equipment like ventilators and diagnostic kits, thermal scanners or medical textiles, which is much needed in the context of COVID as well as post-COVID period. However, to rapidly scale up the manufacturing, it would require huge investments in plant and machinery. The new tie up will fill the gap. 3. Drafting of appropriate standards and safety norms and validation protocols for medical technologies such as ventilators and N95 masks. This would be an important area of support to ensure that quality and safety are upheld.
Contact info: Dr. Hafsa Ahmad (Email: email@example.com); Ms Ginny Bansal (Email:pmubmgf6@ birac.nic.in)
DBT-NCCS partners with IIT-Indore, Bharat Biotech, PredOmix and AFMC in a joint initiative against COVID-19
Scientists at DBT’s autonomous institution, the National Centre for Cell Science (NCCS), Pune, will work towards generating highaffinity human antibodies against SARS-CoV-2. They will work in association with partners from the Indian Institute of Technology (IIT), Indore, PredOmix Technologies Private Limited, Bharat Biotech International Limited, and the Armed Forces Medical College, Pune. The team aims to jointly explore strategies to produce the antibodies initially on a small scale in the research laboratories, for subsequent manufacture on a larger scale by the industry partners. This joint initiative is funded by the New Millennium Indian Technology Leadership Initiative (NMITLI), a flagship programme of the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR). This partnership aims to help tackle the current pandemic more efficiently by leveraging the complementary expertise of academia and industry as well as clinicians involved in frontline response to COVID-19. There is an urgent and huge unmet need for novel therapeutic interventions to tackle the COVID-19 pandemic, given that no specific antiviral drugs or vaccines are available at present. Generally, the body’s immune system helps fight diseases by producing proteins called antibodies. These antibodies can neutralize viruses by binding to them and preventing them from entering into the host’s cells, which is necessary for the virus to survive and multiply. Antibodies thus block the spread of the virus and make them ineffective. NCCS will work with CSIR’s approved project to develop human monoclonal antibodies that can neutralize COVID-19 in patients| Photo Credit:TimesNews.Com 8 Strategies like vaccination protect us from disease by inducing our immune system to produce antibodies against specific viruses before somebody is exposed to the disease-causing virus. However, the development of a vaccine takes time and also relies on the ability of the individual to produce an immune response. The latter might present challenges in certain populations that often show an inadequate immune response, such as the elderly and individuals with underlying health problems such as diabetes, in which COVID-19 can be more fatal. Furthermore, while vaccines work well for preventing infections, they provide little benefit once the infection is established. Therefore, alternative strategies are also necessary; especially to meet the immediate need to control COVID-19. The passive transfer of highly-specific neutralizing antibodies against SARS-CoV2 could serve as a valuable option for the prevention and treatment of COVID-19. Therefore, the use of convalescent plasma, the antibody-rich component obtained from the blood of individuals who have recovered from COVID-19, is being much talked about as a possible intervention. However, meeting the high demand for convalescent plasma merely from blood donors who have recovered from the disease poses obvious challenges.
DBT-THSTI announces video making competition for COVID-19 awareness
With the intention of tapping immense creative potential available in the country and moving ahead with the science education mandate of DBT’s Translational Health Science and Technology Institute’s Science Setu initiative, the institute has invited college-goers from across the country to participate in the THSTI Video Competition 2020. The three themes the participants will be needed to create content are: l The science behind COVID-19 and SARS-CoV-2; l COVID-19 heroes; and l The Infodemic in the Pandemic
This competition is open to participants from any college in India and they can register through this link: https://thsti.in/covid/index.php/Home/media. The videos needs to be within 3 minutes and there is no language restriction. The last date for sending entries is 10th June 2020.
Learn how scientists quantify the intensity of an outbreak
At present, the media have been flooded with a plethora of information related to COVID-19, SARS-CoV-2, and various aspects of pandemics in general. Consequently, people are often introduced to unfamiliar concepts and terminologies that are relevant to the current situation, such as “flattening the curve” and “R0” (R naught). To help people learn more about some of these concepts and how data scientists approach pandemics, a webinar series on Data Science was organized by “Manav - The Human Atlas Initiative”, a collaborative project between DBT’s National Centre for Cell Science (DBT-NCCS), IISER-Pune and Persistent Systems on 7th May 2020.
The series was kick started with a webinar on “R0: How scientists quantify the intensity of an outbreak”. The first of a two-part webinar on this topic was presented by Dr PranayGoel, Associate Professor at IISER-Pune, on 30th April 2020. The second part of this webinar was held on 7th May, 2020, at 3:00pm. The webinar was open to all and free and interested science enthusiasts were invited to participate. The first part was attended by many students, whose enthusiastic participation in a Q&A session after the webinar is a testimony to the success of the webinar. The second session was also meant to be interactive, to enable the participants to engage in a fruitful dialogue with the speaker. The “Manav” initiative is funded by the DBT and co-funded by Persistent Systems.
Contact info: Jyoti Rao (firstname.lastname@example.org)
IBSD augments Covid-19 testing capacity of RIMS by sharing kits and instrumentation
In order to increase testing capacity at Virus Research and Diagnostic Laboratory of Regional Institute of Medical Sciences (RIMS), Imphal, the Institute of Bioresources and Sustainable Development (IBSD) handed over one RNA extractor kit and one Real-Time-PCR (polymerase chain reaction) instrument to the Medical Superintendent, DrChArunkumar. The instrument was given to supplement the existing functioning and detectionof the COVID-19cases. Real-time- PCR is one of the most accurate laboratory methods for detecting, tracking, and studying the coronavirus. Each COVID-19 test requires one RNA extraction kit needed for RTPCR test. According to a press release, Director IBDS, Prof Pulok K Mukherjee congratulated and encouraged the whole team of the RIMS who are doing yeoman’s service in the tough time of fighting the pandemic. IBSD team is also ready to extend any possible help with the 10 available resources at the institute for fighting the COVID-19. Earlier, IBDS Imphal has also provided a Real-Time PCR instrument along with other consumables to JNIMS to supplement their existing functioning and detection of COVID-19 cases.
Contact info: Prof. Pulok Kumar Mukherjee, Director, Institute of Bioresources and Sustainable Development (IBSD), Imphal. Email: email@example.com
Structural and functional implications of non-synonymous mutations in the spike protein of 2,954 SARS-CoV-2 genomes
A team of Scientists at Corona Research & Intervention Group at DBT’s Rajiv Gandhi Centre for Biotechnology (RGCB), Thiruvananthapuram have studied structural and functional implications of non-synonymous mutations in the spike protein of 2,954 SARS-CoV-2 genomes. Since the SARS-CoV-2, the causative agent of COVID-2019 pandemic, is an RNA virus prone to mutations, the information on mutations within the circulating strains of the virus is pivotal to understanding the disease spread and dynamics. Dr. Shijulal and team at RGCB have analysed the mutations associated with 2,954 globally reported high quality genomes of SARS-CoV-2 with special emphasis on genomes of viral strains from India. Molecular phylogenetic analysis suggests that SARS-CoV-2 strains circulating in India form five distinct phyletic clades designated R1-R5. These clades categorize into the previously reported S, G as well as a new unclassified subtype. A detailed analysis of gene encoding of the Spike (S) protein in the strains across the globe shows non-synonymous IBSD hands over kits, instrument to RIMS (Image source: Northeast Now) 11 mutations on 54 amino acid residues. Among these, the research team pinpointed 4 novel mutations in the region that interact with human ACE2 receptor (RBD). Further in silico molecular docking analyses suggested that these RBD mutations could alter the binding affinity of S-protein with ACE2 that may lead to changes in SARS-CoV-2 infectivity. Strikingly, one of these RBD mutations (S438F) was found unique to a subset within the R4 clade suggesting intrinsic S-protein variations in strains currently circulating in India. The research team’s findings revealed a unique pattern of SARS-CoV-2 evolution that may alert vaccine and therapeutic development.
Contact info: Dr. Shijulal Nelson-Sathi & Dr. Umasankar P.K. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org, email@example.com
A consortium launched for innovations in biomedical resources to fight COVID-19
The Department of Biotechnology has launched a new consortium in a public-private partnership model to foster the development of indigenous innovations in reagents and other resources for diagnostics, vaccines and therapeutics for COVID-19. The new setup called National Biomedical Resource Indigenization Consortium (NBRIC) has been established in partnership with Association of Biotechnology Led Enterprises (ABLE) and Confederation of Indian Industry (CII). It is being hosted by DBT’s Bengaluru-based Centre for Cellular and Molecular Platforms (C-CAMP). To start with, NBRIC is announcing an initiative for mapping of reagents and consumables for COVID-19 RT-PCR testing kits.
COVID-19 testing at Institute of Life Sciences, Bhubaneswar
DBT-Institute of Life Sciences successfully carried out COVID-19 testing for 10,780 samples, in 4 weeks, contributing to nearly 18% of the tests conducted in Odisha (59,708). Current testing capacity has risen to approximately 900 samples per day.
Contact info: Dr Mamoni Dash; firstname.lastname@example.org
DBT-NIBMG scientists trying to re-purpose immunomodulatory drugs for COVID-19
A group of scientists at the DBT-National Institute of Biomedical Genomics (DBT-NIBMG) led by Dr. Saroj Kant Mohapatra, faculty member and a clinical scientist is trying to see whether knowledge gained from research on sepsis could help deal with the current pandemic of COVID-19. For example, cytokine storm is a common feature of both sepsis and COVID-19 that significantly contributes to organ dysfunction and mortality. As a follow up, the scientists have initiated a clinical trial to try and re-purpose immunomodulatory drugs like Sepsivac, which has a role in inhibiting the cytokine storm, for COVID-19 also. The group has found some interesting connection between sepsis and cancer too. Using a systems biology approach, they have identified the pathways that are perturbed in both sepsis and cancer. They showed that the clustering of genes separates tumours into two groups: one that shares the pathway signature with sepsis, ‘sepsis-like cancer (SLC) group’, and the other, without any shared pathways with sepsis or ‘cancer alone (CA) group’. The researchers have shown that artificial intelligence tools can help to label an incoming cancer sample in one of these groups with a high level of accuracy (more than 98%). The SLC group consisted mainly of cancers of the upper gastrointestinal tract, such as oesophagus, stomach, liver, and gallbladder. They further showed that some of the upregulated pathways, such as phagocytosis, provide protection against both sepsis and SLCs. Since sepsis is caused by infection and the underlying cause of many SLCs are viral infections, they hypothesize that specific pathways upregulated in both these groups provide protective host immuno-inflammatory response to pathogens. 8 Segregation of cancer into these two groups has biological and clinical implications. The gut may play an important role in the pathogenesis and progression of the SLC group. Dr. Mohapatra’s group is investigating the possibility of using known treatment for sepsis for the SLC group cancers also.
Contact info: Dr. Saroj K. Mohapatra; email@example.com
Webinar to demystify how data scientists quantify intensity of the COVID-19 outbreak
In recent times, the media have been flooded with a plethora of information related to the COVID-19 pandemics. People are often introduced to totally new concepts and terminologies such as “flattening the curve”, and “R0” (R naught). To help people learn more about some of these concepts, a webinar series on Data Science is being organized by “Manav - The Human Atlas Initiative”, a collaborative project of the DBT’s National Centre for Cell Science (DBT-NCCS), IISER-Pune and Persistent Systems. This Series started with a webinar on “R0: How scientists quantify the intensity of an outbreak”. The first of a two-part webinar on this topic was presented by Dr. Pranay Goel, Associate Professor at IISER-Pune, on 30th April, 2020, at 3 pm. The webinar is free to watch and open to all. Interested science enthusiasts are invited to participate. More information about the project can be obtained from their website: https://manav.gov.in/
Contact info: Jyoti Rao; firstname.lastname@example.org
COVID Gyan content available in English and other Indian languages
The DBT’s autonomous institute, the Institute for Stem Cell Science & Regenerative Medicine (inStem), Bengaluru is one of the founding partners of the pan-institutional website COVID Gyan, launched on Apr 03, 2020. The website is updated regularly with interesting and scientifically-vetted content relevant to COVID-19 pandemic, keeping the common man in view. The content is available in both English and other Indian languages.
DBT-BIRAC clear 70 proposals for vaccines, diagnostics, therapeutics and other products
The DBT and its public sector enterprise Biotechnology Industry Research Assistance Council (BIRAC) had invited applications for funding under a COVID-19 Research Consortium to help develop safe and effective Biomedical solutions against SARS-CoV-2 as quickly as possible. The two organisations have continuously been evaluating the applications. These applications were called from the industry and academia, both separately and jointly, for developing diagnostics, vaccines, novel therapeutics, repurposing of drugs or any other intervention that may be of use to control the pandemic. Through a rolling multi-tiered review mechanism, 70 proposals of devices, diagnostics, vaccine candidates, therapeutics and other interventions have been recommended for receiving financial support. The shortlisted proposals include 10 vaccines candidates, 34 diagnostics products or scale-up facilities, 10 therapeutics options, two proposals on drug repurposing and 14 projects for preventive interventions.
To accelerate vaccine development, DBT has identified some institutes which will provide animal models for testing pre-clinical efficacy and also make available neutralization assays. IIT Indore will produce Pseudovirus SARS-CoV-2 which can be used for development of in-vitro assays. Enzene Biosciences Limited will make available Spike protein and Receptor Binding Domain protein in large quantities to vaccine and diagnostic companies as a reagent. The portfolio of vaccine candidates has been enhanced by providing support for development of a next-generation mRNA vaccine candidate by Gennova and to CMC, Vellore for a lipid encapsulated mRNA-based vaccine. Early development work for an Intranasal vaccine candidate for COVID-19 has also been awarded to Indian Institute of Chemical Technology and support is being given under National Biopharma Mission of DBT for a project in University of Delhi South Campus where work has been initiated towards discovering neutralizing antibodies from an existing phage display-based library.
Further, to ensure complete indigenization of COVID diagnostics, support has already been provided to AMTZ and other companies to scale-up production of RT-PCR kits. In addition, anticipating long-term need for diagnostics, DBT/BIRAC have committed support for different types of diagnostics platforms like Fluorescence and Electrochemistry Mediated Rapid Detection of SARS-CoV-2 Nucleic Acid (Bennett University, Greater Noida); portable microfluidics embedded on chip rRT-PCR and microelectrode array coupled point-of-care optoelectronic device for large-scale screening (JNU, Delhi); Development and evaluation of aptamer-based lateral flow assay kit for detection of SARS-CoV-2 detection (IIT Delhi) and CRISPER-based diagnosis of COVID-19 using paper microfluidics form (IIT Guwahati). Other companies to get funding support are Denovo, Biolabs, ShineBiotech, Prantae, Proma Therapeutics, and Achira. In total, 34 companies and academic institutes will receive financial support for ensuring there is no shortage of indigenous diagnostic kits in the near future.
BIRAC has also set up a ‘Fast Track Review Process’ to provide fund for COVID solutions that are ready for immediate deployment. Through this initiative, following start-ups with PPE 10 solutions have been approved for support: Aarna Biomedical Products for manufacturing “Full body coverage suits”, Alpha Corpusles Pvt Ltd for “Face Shields”, MicroGO for `Automated Sanitizer’, Stasis Health Pvt Ltd. and Monitra for remote patient monitoring, Turtle Shell for a sleep monitoring device, Perisodhana for N-95 Masks and Remidio for Ambu bags.
Contact info: Communication Cell of DBT/BIRAC
DBT-RCB scientists target SARS-CoV-2 genomic RNA conformations for antiviral therapy
Many deadly human diseases are caused by RNA viruses, including the recent coronavirus (CoV) outbreak from severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS-CoV-2) virus. It has a singlestranded RNA genome covered by an enveloped structure. The RNA genome of CoV is one among the largest (size range between 26.2 and 31.7 kb, positive sense), in all the RNA viruses. The CoV contains structured RNA elements that are likely involved in key processes such as RNA synthesis, transcriptional regulation and protein translation that result in multiplication of their RNA genomes. Despite diverse structures and crucial functions compared to proteins, RNA is an under-exploited therapeutic target for antiviral therapy. Dr. Ambadas Rode, Assistant Professor at DBT-Regional Centre for Biotechnology (RCB) has initiated research in collaboration with Dr. Deepak Salunke, Panjab University on developing small molecules to target RNA structures in SARS-CoV- 2 genome that can block the CoV replication.
Scientists identify a protein that possibly promotes transmission of a coronavirus subtype
SARS-CoV-2, the coronavirus, has created a global calamity. Scientists of the DBT’s National Institute of Biomedical Genomics (DBT-NIBMG), Kalyani, West Bengal, have been analysing thousands of publicly available RNA sequences of the coronavirus. They have discovered that of the 11 subtypes of this virus, only one subtype (A2a) is infecting more people and spreading rapidly throughout the world; hugely in Europe and North America, but less so in East Asia. This subtype carries a nucleotide substitution in its genome that results in an amino acid change from Aspartate to Glycine (D614G) in a critical viral protein – the Spike protein – which helps the virus attach to the human lung cell (D614G). Their paper has been accepted for publication in the Indian Journal of Medical Research. This finding has also subsequently been reported by an international consortium led by the Los Alamos National Laboratory; the results of their study are on bioRxiv. The DBT-NIBMG scientists have now identified a plausible mechanism, based on known biological facts, by which the A2a subtype enters the lung cell of the human host and transmits more efficiently. They have identified that the coronavirus and host genomes interact to shape transmissibility and epidemiology. A protein produced by the human host called TMPRSS2 enables the entry of the virus into the human lung cells. If a coronavirus of the A2a subtype infects a human, then the infected person starts to produce another protein called Elastase at the site of the infection provided that the person has a specific variant in her/his genome. This variant is a deletion of a single nucleotide C (delC) in a genomic region that regulates the expression of TMPRSS2 and also of another gene MX1. MX1 controls the level of Elastase at the infection site. Elastase, in combination with TMPRSS2, provides additional help to the coronavirus enter human lung cells, but the additional help is accorded only to the A2a subtype. Thus, the human delC variant helps the A2a subtype transmit more easily to humans than the other subtypes. In Europe and North America a large number of persons carry the delC variant, while in East Asia a relatively smaller number of persons carry this variant. The NIBMG 11 scientists have proposed in a recent manuscript that they have placed on bioRxiv that this is a reason for the A2a subtype to have infected a larger proportion of persons and with enhanced rapidity in Europe and North America than in East Asia.
Rapid diagnostics for COVID-19 from MagGenome under DBT-BIRAC COVID-19 Research Consortium Initiative
The DBT and Biotechnology Industry Research Assistance Council (BIRAC) recently cleared a proposal of MagGenome Technologies Pvt Ltd for funding support for development of a diagnostic kit comprising sample collection buffer and RNA extraction kit for real-time RTPCR-based detection of SARS-CoV-2. The proposal was cleared under the COVID-19 Research Consortium’s call to support Diagnostics, Vaccines, Novel Therapeutics, Repurposing of Drugs or any other intervention for control of COVID-19. The support will be provided under DBT’s National Biopharma Mission. MagGenome Technologies primarily focuses on the development of magnetic nanoparticlesbased products. The current initiatives include developing nucleic acid extraction kits using the patented magnetic nanoparticles-based technology. The company has developed DNA extraction kits under the brand name XpressDNA and affinity resins under the brand name XpressAffinity. MagGenome is an example of academic research being translated into a commercial venture.
Diagnostic Kit from MagGenome:
RNA Extraction Kit: The Company proposes to use their magnetic nanoparticles-based system to develop a viral RNA extraction method which can capture all available viral RNA without any loss during purification. A reliable and quick extraction kit which yields significantly high quantity and quality of RNA is a major requirement for any RT-PCR-based detection system for COVID-19. This method aims to be less time consuming and less labour intensive compared to other extraction methods.
Sample Collection Kit: The Company aims to develop a unique formulation of sample collection solution which can ensure the proper storage of viral RNA in the sample for several days even at room temperature. The collection method proposed is especially unique as it can be self-collected with appropriate instructions reducing the risk of exposure to healthcare workers at the time of sample collection. Though the sample collection solution is suitable for storing the currently approved sample types, the nasal and throat swabs, it also promotes the use of saliva samples (normal as well as deep throat). MagGenome intends to provide these solutions to the customer in the form of a complete detection kit which comprises three components: Sample collection solution, RNA extraction reagents and real-time RT-PCR detection reagents. The world is facing a dearth of reliable methods or commercial kits which can guarantee efficient extraction of viral RNA, especially in early stages of viral infection.
Fast-track review and funding support under COVID-19 fund
In view of the need to identify and provide fast-track support to suitable biotech proposals to facilitate product development and bring significant social impact to address challenges of COVID-19, DBT-BIRAC has set up a Fast-track Internal Review Committee to review and recommend the proposals that can be supported under COVID fund. 12 The Committee’s first meeting recommended funding support to two Start-ups: Aarna Biomedical Products and Alpha Corpuscles. A co-funding partner IKP Knowledge Park has also been approved to support up to 15 Start-ups. Aarna Biomedical Products would be funded for the “Suraksha Full Body Coverage Kit” which would comprise of a full face shield, a facemask, a coverall with fused head coverage having very firm stitches which are further enforced at the groin and underarm areas, two shoe covers and two hand covers using SPM-Non Woven Fabric which can be used up to BSL-2 with manufacturer’s self-declaration.
This holistic wearable kit would be available at a cost-effective price. Alpha Corpuscles has been recommended support for development of Face Shields that protect the face from pathogen-laden droplets. Face shields offer the advantage of guarding the entire face of healthcare workers from contamination. In order to identify, empower and fast-track innovations for COVID-19 control, IKP Knowledge Park has put together an IKP COVID Fund and further proposed to BIRAC for matching the grant support to fast track deployment of solutions for control of COVID-19.The same has been approved for funding 10-15 start-ups.
BSC Bionest Bioincubator wins second prize in MHRD Mega online challenge for start-ups
InnoDx Solutions Pvt. Ltd., a start-up incubated at BSC Bio-Nest Bioincubator, has won second prize in the MHRD Mega online challenge “Samadhan’’, where start-ups had to share their ideas (design/simulation mandatory) to solve the challenges posed by the COVID pandemic. The mega online challenge “Samadhan’’ was launched by MIC and AICTE in collaboration with Forge and InnovatioCuris. The participants in this challenge had to design, simulate and develop such measures that can be made available to the government agencies, health services, hospitals and other services for quick solutions to the coronavirus pandemic and other such calamities. Apart from this, through the “Samadhan” challenge, efforts will be made to make citizens aware, to motivate them, to face any challenge, to prevent any crisis and to help people get livelihood.
DBT-NCCS tests over 200 samples for SARS-CoV-2 in 10 days
The National Centre for Cell Science (DBT-NCCS) in Pune, an autonomous institution of the DBT, was one of the Government laboratories identified to carry out testing for COVID-19. DBT-NCCS was approved as a diagnostics facility by the DBT, the Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR) and the Maharashtra State Government. To facilitate the ongoing efforts against COVID-19 in the country, DBT-NCCS began testing samples for SARS-CoV-2 on 25th April, 2020. This was preceded by extensive and speedy preparations, including reorganization of the research laboratories into a diagnostics centre, procurement of supplies like PPE and kits, formulating and validating a standard operating procedure (SoP), getting technical and scientific staff trained at ICMR-NIV for COVID-related biosafety measures and sample testing, registering the facility with the appropriate authorities, and conducting mock testing. Several scientists, and technical and other staff, who have been working tirelessly since testing began at DBT-NCCS, have played a big role in this endeavour. With their diligent efforts, the number of samples tested crossed 200 on 4th May, 2020. A short video shared on the NCCS social media and website offers a glimpse into the activities of the diagnostics team.
Studies suggest HIV-1protease inhibitor ritonavir may be of use against SARS-CoV-2
Theoretical studies being performed at DBT-Regional Centre for Biotechnology suggest that HIV-1 protease inhibitor,ritonavir, may inhibit the exoribonuclease activity of the nsp14 protein from SARS-CoV-2.The nsp14 protein of SARS-CoV-2 houses the exoribonuclease activity responsible for removing mismatches that arise during genome duplication. A homology model of nsp14-nsp10 complex was used to carry out in silico screening to identify molecules that can potentially inhibit the activity of nsp14. This exercise showed that ritonavir may bind to the exoribonuclease active site of the nsp14 protein with significant affinity. It is, therefore, possible that ritonavir may prevent association with RNA and thus inhibit the exoribonuclease activity of nsp14. Among the drugs currently under trial, remdesivir and favipiravir act by causing premature termination of viral replication. Since nsp14 may reverse the inhibitory effect of these drugs on viral replication, it is possible that a combination of ritonavir with remdesivir or favipiravir may be more effective.
Webinar on challenges of clinical research in the times of a pandemic
Continuing its endeavour to maintain a lean team of clinical, medical, product development, regulatory and biometric experts liaising with a network of collaborating partners and institutions to provide customized support, and tailoring it to the current situation, Faridabadbased Clinical Development Service Agency (CDSA) is organizing a webinar series to cater DBT-NCCS serves as a testing centre for COVID-19. 14 to clinical researchers. CDSA is an Extramural arm of the DBT’s Translational Health Science and Technology Institute (DBT-THSTI). The first webinar in this series scheduled to be held on 13th May 2020 is expected to attract clinical researchers, bioethics professionals and others who wish to work on COVID-19 and are based in both public and private funded institutions. Dr. Y.K. Gupta, Principal Adviser at CDSA will be answering some pressing questions about issues related to clinical research related to COVID-19
Visit of Inter-Ministerial Central Government Team to DBT - CDFD
The Inter-Ministerial Central Government Team visited DBT-CDFD situated in Uppal, Hyderabad, Telangana, on 1st May 2020 afternoon. The five-member team was led by Sri Arun Baroka, Addl. Secretary, Ministry of Jal Shakti, Government of India. Dr Debashis Mitra, Director, DBT-CDFD briefed the team about the actions taken by the Institute to combat the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. Dr. Mitra informed the visitors that CDFD is conducting RT-PCR-based diagnostics of nasopharyngeal samples received from different districts in Telangana. Now DBT-CDFD is testing samples for the presence of both the E gene, which is present in all coronaviruses and the SARS-CoV-2-specific RdRP gene based on the kit made available to them by the State. The Central Team was also informed that the Telangana Government hasgenerously supported this effort with a timely supply of testing kits and PPEs. DBT-CDFD has the capacity to test 150-200 individual samples per day and is ready to undertake testing of pooled samples as well. Dr. M D Bashyam, Dr. Ashwin Dalal, Dr. Rashna Bhandari, and Dr. Visit of Inter-Ministerial Central Government Team to DBT - CDFD 9 R. Harinarayanan are actively involved in the COVID-19 testing activities at CDFD. The Team Members visited the COVID-19 diagnostics lab, where Dr. Mitra and his team explained the testing protocols to them.
Launch of 1000 Genome sequencing of SARS-CoV-2 Virus
During a review of COVID-19 activities by Hon’ble Ministerof Science & Technology, Health & Family Welfare and Earth Sciences help the DBT announced launch of 1000 genome sequencing of SARS-CoV-2 virus by DBT Autonomous Institutions consortia to understand viral and host genomics of COVID-19 outbreak. This study will sequence 1000 SARS-CoV-2 genomes from the clinical samples to understand the evolving molecular phylogeny of the virus and the emerging mutations in the viral RNA as well as identify the host genetic variations whichcorrelate with transmission, susceptibility and disease severity. This study is being coordinated by NIBMG, Kalyani with active participation from CDFD, Hyderabad; ILS, Bhubaneswar; NCCS, Pune; InStem, Bengaluru along with other DBT Autonomous Institutions. The findings of this study will also assist development of efficient diagnostic assays, vaccine and drug candidates and help formulate policies for containment of the outbreak.
Clustering and supporting NE India Covid-19 testing laboratories by DBT-IBSD
DBT-Institute of Bioresources and Sustainable Development (DBT-IBSD), Imphal, is supporting COVID-19 testing laboratories in NER using a clustering approach. The highlights of this support are given below:
Support in Meghalaya:
Government Civil Hospital, Tura – DBT-IBSD is providing equipment, equipment support and consumables
Pasteur Institute, Shillong – DBT-IBSD is facilitating development of BSL2 facility, equipment and capacity building
NEIGR Institute of Medical Sciences: DBT-IBSD is providing-RT-PCR machine
Support in Manipur:
JN Institute of Medical Sciences, Government of Manipur: DBT-IBSD is providing equipment, support and consumables and capacity building
Support in Mizoram:
Zoram Medical College: DBT-IBSD is providing consumables
DBT-IBSD: Traditional medicine-inspired development of antivirals and immunomodulators as therapeutics or prophylactics against SARS-CoV-2 from Medicinal and Aromatic Plants (MAPs) of North East India
As on 1st May, 2020, there are more than 33,000 confirmed cases of Covid-19 in India. However, the combined number of cases in the 8 states of NE India is still below 100. Even during the SARS-CoV of 2003, the incidence in NE India was much below the national average, suggesting a higher inherent immunity or antiviral reaction in the residents of NE India. This could be 11 attributed to the high biodiversity of the region and the prevalent daily consumption of local medicinal plants as food, which IBSD is screening for novel antivirals and immunomodulators against SARS-CoV-2.
DBT-NII Research team predicts potential molecules against COVID-19
Ever since the first case of COVID-19 was detected in the Wuhan province of China, the disease has rapidly spread all over the globe and has been declared a pandemic by the World Health Organization. While scientific research has successfully designed tools for rapid diagnosis of the disease, very little success has been achieved in the development of COVID therapeutics. The disease initiates following an infection with the virus SARS-CoV-2 (Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome-Coronavirus2), initially named as 2019-nCoV (2019 novel coronavirus). While over 80% of the infected people show mild flu-like symptoms, severe cases exhibit pneumonia, sepsis and organ failure. Interestingly, SARSCoV-2 is the seventh virus of its kind and the past few years have witnessed outbreaks by similar types of viruses causing both severe (SARS-CoV and MERS-CoV) and mild (HKU1, NL63, OC43 and 229E) diseases. Viruses are usually made of a layer of lipids, Computationally docked kinase inhibitor Sorafenib at the predicted active site pocket of the NiRAN domain from SARS-CoV-2 RNA-dependent RNA Polymerase. (Sorafenib presented in stick model; Red indicates positively charged regions, blue indicates negatively charged regions and green indicates neutral regions, grey indicates regions beyond GTPbinding pocket) 12 followed by a second layer of proteins forming a protective capsule around its genetic material. Once a virus infects a living organism, it hijacks the cellular machinery of the organism to make multiple copies of its genetic material, proteins and lipids. The virus also carries key proteins that aid in replicating its genetic materials and proteins. The SARS-CoV-2 and its entire species use RNA as their genetic molecule. They harbour a protein known as “RNA-dependent RNA polymerase/RdRp”, which copies its RNA genome following infection into the host’s cells.
Combining various computational and bioinformatics tools, the team at the National Institute of Immunology (NII) first determined the molecular structure of SARS-CoV-2 RdRp and further predicted a key molecular binding site within the RdRp. This site acts like a pocket for a key molecule called “guanosine triphosphate/GTP”. Earlier reports from other virus suggest that following the binding of GTP in this pocket initiates the process of viral genome replication by RdRp. In addition, the Team found many organic molecules that can effectively bind within this pocket and also designed a molecule that exhibits an exceptionally strong binding. The idea is to use these organic molecules to prevent the binding of GTP within the pocket, thus rendering the RdRp non-functional.
COVID-19 outreach efforts by DBT-inStem
InStem is one of the founding partners of the pan-institutional website COVID Gyan, launched on Apr 03, 2020. The website is updated regularly with interesting and scientifically-vetted content relevant to COVID pandemic, keeping the common man in view. The contents are available in English and other Indian languages.
To read the articles posted on the website, click https://covid-gyan.in/articles. For FAQs related to COVID-19, click https://covid-gyan.in/faqs. To access infographics and posters click https://covid-gyan.in/infographics. For videos from experts, click https://covid-gyan.in/videos. For audio/podcasts, click https://covid-gyan.in/audio
COVID-19 research efforts by DBT-inStem
Dr. Dasaradhi Palakodeti and his team in inStem have contributed experimental support to an algorithm developed by scientists at IIT, Bombay and NCBS-TIFR Bangalore. The algorithm called “Tapestry” is an attempt to explore economical and scalable ways to test more people during epidemics such as the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, which has created pressure on testing capabilities worldwide. Tapestry is a novel quantitative nonadaptive pooling scheme to test many samples using only a few tests. The underlying molecular diagnostic test is any realtime RT-PCR diagnostic panel approved for the detection of the SARS-CoV-2 virus. In cases where most samples are negative for the virus, Tapestry accurately identifies the status of each individual sample with a single round of testing in fewer tests than simple two-round pooling. A companion Android application BYOM Smart Testing which guides users through the pipetting steps required to perform the combinatorial pooling was also developed by the investigators. The results of the pooled tests can be fed into the application to recover the status and estimated viral load for each individual sample.
Structural and functional implications of non-synonymous mutations in the spike protein of 2,954 SARS-CoV-2 genomes
A team of scientists at Corona Research & Intervention Group, DBT-Rajiv Gandhi Centre for Biotechnology, Thiruvananthapuram have studied structural and functional implications of non-synonymous mutations in the spike protein of 2,954 SARS-CoV-2 genomes. Information on mutations within the circulating strains of the virus is pivotal to understand disease spread and dynamics. Dr. Shijulal and team at DBT-RGCB have analysed the mutations associated with 2,954 globally reported high quality genomes of SARS-CoV-2 with special emphasis on genomes of viral strains from India. Molecular phylogenetic analysis suggests that SARS-CoV-2 strains circulating in India form five distinct phyletic clades designated R1-R5.
These clades categorize into the previously reported S, G as well as a new unclassified subtype. A detailed analysis of gene encoding the spike (S) protein in the strains across the globe showed nonsynonymous mutations on 54 amino acid residues. Among these, the research team pinpointed 4 novel mutations in the region that interacts with human ACE2 receptor (RBD). Further, in silico molecular docking analyses suggested that these RBD mutations could alter the binding affinity of S-protein with ACE2 that may lead to changes in SARS-CoV-2 infectivity. Strikingly, one of these RBD mutations (S438F) was found unique to a subset within the R4 clade suggesting intrinsic S-protein variations in strains currently circulating in India. The research team’s findings revealed a unique pattern of SARS-CoV-2 evolution that may alert vaccine and therapeutic development.
Catching up with the progress made in COVID-19 research – Key takeaways from last week’s COVID-19 Ask the Experts webinar
DBT-THSTI, DBT/Wellcome Trust India Alliance, IAVI and Nature India conducted the sixth webinar in the series COVID-19 Ask the Experts. Promising to address many pressing points in COVID-19 research and the future course of the pandemic, the panel had Dr. Gagandeep 14 Kang, Executive Director of THSTI; Dr. Shahid Jameel, CEO, India Alliance and Dr. Jacob John, Professor, CMC, Vellore. More than 350 registrations were received for this webinar which was by far the highest.
Here are the key takeaways from the webinar:
On how the pandemic is progressing: There is recognition of the ailment, science informing the intervention of the disease and understanding of clinical picture is changing. The virus may be very inclusive but the pandemic certainly isn’t. Technology advances are aiding due to which vaccine is in clinical trial in just two months. But at the same time, there is [an] infodemic and fake news to deal with.
On how the disease will progress in the coming months: The panellists felt that Mathematical models are just models. They need data to be followed, which is difficult at the initial stage of the pandemic.
On lessons learned for vaccine development from animal models of immune response: The ChAdox1 vaccine has been successful in a study done on monkeys (primates). However, data in human subjects is awaited.
On SARS-CoV-2 mutations: There is no evidence that there are multiple strains. Lots of sequences show that the virus is evolving but no evidence that it has become a different virus. So, we need not worry about the impact of mutations on vaccine development.
On repurposing drugs for curing COVID-19: Repurposing of drugs is crucial and the fastest way to find a treatment. It will involve screening with licensed and known compounds to see if they have anti-viral effects. Also, it is important to look for what worked for a related virus. Further, structural-aided drug design is the way to go; it is fast and crucial at the moment.
On challenges for good experimental/clinical research in India: In India, lack of data systems is a challenge in public health research amidst a pandemic. The ability to access the information is important to know the scale of the problem. Further, an assumption needs to be substantiated with data, which is lacking in current scenario and is a challenge to deal with.
Augmenting domestic manufacturing to meet national demands in current COVID-19 crisis: DBT-AMTZ COMManD Strategy
DBT-AMTZ COMManD [COVID Medtech Manufacturing Development] strategy is to address the shortage of critical medical equipment in India and move progressively towards a stage of self-sufficiency. This is an excellent example of how supportive governance and progressive science could be brought together to address immediate and futuristic priorities.
Andhra Pradesh MedTech Zone (AMTZ) is an established medical equipment manufacturing ecosystem, and the Department of Biotechnology (DBT) is a pioneer department for support of medical technologies sectoral growth. Under this strategy, DBT is supporting AMTZ which is Asia’s first medical equipment manufacturing ecosystem, uniquely dedicated for Medtech and this initiative would be supported under DBT’s National Biopharma Mission. The COMManD strategy has 3 focal points.
1. Supporting the start-ups and innovators that have till now taken support from DBT/ BIRAC for medical technology projects. All these innovators and entrepreneurs are being supported by AMTZ, technologically facilitated towards the next level of product realisation. This includes steps such as inclusion of their innovative technologies in the formulation of appropriate standards, providing subsidised infrastructure for testing and validation, facilities for prototyping, partnership with manufacturing units and provision of 15 start-up space and furthering their chances of development and market access.
2. Many medical device manufacturers have the potential to make critical equipment like ventilators and diagnostic kits, thermal scanners or medical textiles, which is much needed in COVID context as well as post-COVID period. However, to rapidly scale up the manufacturing, it would require a huge investment in plant and machinery, without which such scale-up will not be possible. DBT, therefore, is supporting AMTZ to invest in the plant and machinery in these companies which are situated within AMTZ campus in Vishakapatnam so that their rapid scale-up of infrastructure and production capabilities could be achieved.
3. Drafting of appropriate standards and safety norms, validation protocols for these medical technologies such as ventilators, N95 masks and so on. This would be an important area of support to ensure that their quality and safety are upheld, at the same time ensuring their registration on government e-marketplace and through the orders received by AMTZ from the Government of India is met. This provides industrial partners with an avenue for market access.
DBT-AMTZ COMManD strategy is therefore a three-pronged approach which has been put in place by the support of DBT, GOI and the ecosystem support of AMTZ, to ensure that rapid infrastructure capabilities are used for progressively improving the manufacturing capabilities of domestic manufacturing in the medical technology sector in a rapid and quality assured manner.
The outcome of COMManD Strategy would be:
i) 10,000 kits (RTPCR) per day increasing up to 40,000 kits per day by May 30th
ii) 10,000 units (antibody) per day increasing to upto 60,000 units per day by May 30th
iii) 3000 ventilators per month from the month of May
iv) 1000 infrared non-touch thermal scanner per day
v) 3000 PPE kits per day
vi) 40,000 (N95) masks per day
Convalescent Plasma: Potential therapy for COVID-19
Department of Biotechnology & Biotechnology Research Industry Research Council recently announced a COVID-19 Research consortium call to support diagnostics, vaccines, novel therapeutics, repurposing of drugs or any other intervention for control of COVID-19. The first phase of the call closed on 30th March 2020; the review is ongoing, and 16 proposals have been recommended so far. Virchow Biotech Pvt Ltd was awarded funding support under DBT’s National Biopharma Mission to work on plasma therapy for COVID-19. Virchow Biotech has been commercially manufacturing intravenous immunoglobulin from human plasma since 2013 16 in a WHO-approved and dedicated plasma fractionation cGMP facility. Currently, they have the capacity to process over 300,000 litres of plasma annually. They are one of the largest manufacturers of human IVIG and human serum albumin in India.
They are the first company in India to identify Immunoglobulin Therapy, which can prove to be more promising as compared to direct plasma administration. Direct plasma therapy has several safety, efficacy and specificity concerns. Single transfusion might not be sufficient and transfer of other blood components may pose inadvertent risks. The sterility and specificity of Intravenous Immunoglobulins will help to prevent these risks and keep track of administered dosage. The proposed immunotherapy procedure already has necessary approvals in place from Drug Controller General of India; Central Drugs Standards Control Organization and funding from Biotechnology Industry Research Assistance Council (BIRAC).
The Company plans to start its clinical trials for the same very soon. The Company has proposed to collect plasma from several human convalescent donors, in order to prepare a standardized immunoglobulin enriched in anti-COVID antibodies with a specific titer. Immunoglobulin treatment is increasingly recognized to treat a variety of diseases not just because of its ability to fight the infection but also due to its Immunomodulatory and Immunosuppressive activities. In the absence of other proven therapies, it is widely expected that these immunoglobulins will prove crucial in reducing the morbidity from the COVID-19 infection potentially saving valuable human lives. To accelerate the efforts, it is desirable that more COVID-19-recovered patients should come forward to donate their plasma and serve the national cause.
COVID-19 diagnostic testing by DBT-ILS Bhubaneshwar
COVID testing by DBT-ILS is going in full swing. As on date more than 5000 samples obtained from 12 districts of Odisha were analysed following all safety precautions and with dedicated efforts of ILS scientists and students. Health & Family Welfare Department and Hon’ble Chief Ministers Office, Government of Odisha complemented @DBTIndia’s AI @DBT_ILS for testing 901 COVID-19 samples on 3rd May 2020, contributing to nearly 40% of tests done in Odisha. It is a remarkable achievement indeed which has been made possible only with sincere efforts of ILS staff &scholars.
DBT-NIPGR examining potential for anti-COVID drugs from plant products
The Department of Biotechnology’s New Delhi-based National Institute of Plant Genome Research (NIPGR) is looking into ways by which it could contribute to the global efforts to come out with new interventions to tackle the COVID-19 pandemic sweeping the world now. A team of researchers at the Institute led by Dr Ashutosh Pandey is working to find drugs against the SARS-CoV-2 virus. The group is rigorously exploring plant’s natural products, specifically flavonoids, that are potentially anti-viral in nature. The potential activity of the identified molecule/s against SARS-CoV-2 will be tested in collaboration with the Regional Centre for Biotechnology, Faridabad.
Contact info: Dr Ashutosh Pandey; email@example.com
Sundowner Sessions’ focusing on Mental Health during National Lockdown by DBT- inStem, Bangalore
During the current COVID-19 outbreak and lockdown, one's well-being is emerging as one of the top priorities from the mental health perspective. With physical distancing as one of the key tools to flatten the curve, one can feel boycotted and isolated, mentally and emotionally drained. The global surveys suggest that this has been affecting the general well-being resulting in a decline in mental health with an increase in suicide rates and severe trauma for many.
The website, COVID Gyan, was set up by a consortium of institutions to create awareness about COVID-19 for the general public through infographics, posters, research articles, podcasts/videos etc.). It is working to address this issue too to bring in a more holistic approach of support during this crisis time.
With evenings being the special periods of vulnerability, COVID Gyan has planned to bring a series of interactive 'Sundowner Session' with Rukmini Chawla Kumar (Author and Editor at Penguin Books). These sessions will focus on discussion of topics of relevance to the lockdown, readings from books/poems and most importantly, some friendly conversations with 'humane' touch. The idea of these Sundowner Sessions is to create an engaging platform with a community, share challenges that one might be facing, get some tips on these, and spend some time in the company of others while maintaining physical distancing.
The first session was held on 16 April 2020 with the key topic of focus revolving around 'Living Alone during the Lockdown' with guest, Isha Lohumi, a mental health researcher with an M.A. in Social Work in Mental Health. This is especially important for those who are living alone at this time and have to face a day of complete physical isolation. During this one hour session, participants expressed their trauma, shared their personal stories and coping mechanisms during this lockdown while the panellists addressed some of the concerns and suggested tips to deal with this ordeal. This session was one of its kinds because it made most of them feel that 'everyone is in this together'. We are hoping that such community sessions would be helpful for common man, in general. The video recording of this session will be available on the COVID Gyan website soon.
Well-Being Section on COVID Gyan Website goes LIVE
A brand new ‘well-being’ section of COVID-Gyan also went live recently. Dedicated to several resources on well-being, including ways to deal with isolation, how to keep busy during this trying time, and more, this page of the website is going to bring in ‘all round’ approach in dealing with this pandemic.
Check out the page http://covid-gyan.in/well-being for interesting articles and infographics.
Covid Gyan is the brainchild of Tata Institute of Fundamental Research (TIFR), Indian Institute of Science (IISc), and Tata Memorial Centre (TMC). Several other prominent partners have since joined this noble effort including Vigyan Prasar, IndiaBioscience, and the Bangalore Life Science Cluster (BLiSc), which includes Institute for Stem Cell Science and Regenerative Medicine (InStem), Centre for Cellular And Molecular Platforms (C-CAMP), and National Centre for Biological Sciences (NCBS).
Immunology of COVID-19 in Indian population: Implications for vaccine design
The Department of Biotechnology's National Institute of Immunology is actively progressing to support the development of vaccines for COVID-19. Vaccine is the most preferred preventive measures to protect from COVID-19. However, several uncertainties and questions need to be answered to evaluate a vaccine for human use, particularly, (i) what should be the criteria to qualify a vaccine candidate; (ii) what should be the mechanism of action of a suitable vaccine; and (iii) how long a particular vaccine will provide the protective cover. These questions could be addressed by applying advanced human immunology investigations on the COVID-19 patients’ samples. Team NII is ready with the advanced immunology setup for addressing these questions. The team is also actively working on developing the platform for evaluating the COVID-19 vaccine. The programme is recently supported under the DBT and BIRAC joint efforts in COVID-19 National Consortium. The efforts will be accelerated as soon as the patients' samples are available from the DBT COVID-19 Research Consortium constituted to collect the patients' samples from around eight clinical centres across the Delhi-NCR.
Contact Person: Dr Amulya K Panda; firstname.lastname@example.org
Update on COVID-19 testing at Institute of Life Sciences, Bhubaneswar
Institute of Life Sciences, Bhubaneswar, with its proven expertise in infectious disease biology research, has resolved to augment the testing for COVID-19 in Odisha. With due approval of DBT and ICMR, it commenced its testing with effect from 14 April 2020, in its newly commissioned BSL-III facility. After initial training andstandardisation of protocols, DBT-ILS on 21 April completed successful testing of 1,000 samples provided by the Department of Health and Family Welfare, Government of Odisha. These samples were collected from 9 districts of Odisha (Puri, Jagatsighpur, Jajpur, Kendrapada, Kandhamal, Koraput, Bolangir, Malkangiri and Sonpur). Nine senior faculties of ILS, led by Dr Ajay Parida, Director are supervising this challenging task with support from as many as 21 PhD students and 4 technical staff. It now aims to scale up the testing facility to achieve a target of analysing 500 samples per day. In addition to contributing to screening efforts, DBT-ILS aims to initiate research activities for diagnostics, identifying drug targets and genomics and immunobiology studies related to COVID-19.
DBT-Wellcome Trust develops ‘Wash Karo” - App for COVID 19 awareness
An India Alliance fellow, Dr Tavpritesh Sethi at IIIT (Indraprastha Institute of Information Technology) Delhi and his team have developed an android-based app "Wash Karo" that functions as a complete Infodemic Management Suite. It was presented at WHO, Geneva on 8 April, via video conferencing. WashKaro aims to provide the right information to the right people in the right format at the right time.
This APP aims to help the public, and its updated content is delivered in Hindi in the form of bite-sized audios for those who may not be able to read. Dr Tavpritesh Sethi is also part of a Technology Innovation Group constituted by the Delhi Government to develop and maintain IT platforms viz. website and an app for COVID-19 management for Delhi.
Virtual Partnering for COVID-19
Biotechnology Industry Research Assistance Council (BIRAC) is supporting a COVID-19 Virtual Partnering event that is gathering the global pharma industry to connect and help bring forward solutions against the novel coronavirus pandemic. The focus of the Virtual Gathering includes development of clinical trials and manufacturing of patient solutions such as diagnostics, drug treatment and, ultimately, a COVID-19 vaccine. Today’s COVID-19 crisis requires a previously unimaginable acceleration of output from the biopharmaceutical and life sciences industry. The way forward requires an enormous collaboration effort like the COVID-19 Virtual Partnering event in which industry can join hands and accelerate #PartneringAgainstCOVID19. Virtual Partnering International event 20 April - 6 May is aimed to encourage inter-regional alliances among life sciences industry, start-ups, research institutes, universities and other stakeholders. The initiative is backed by a consortium of biotech clusters and over 30 national, regional and international trade associations. Pharmaceutical and diagnostics companies have endorsed the initiative, making this a truly global effort. It represents a safe, structured and easy-to-use online meeting space for those working on solutions for COVID-19. The event is organized by Lyonbiopole, Inova, and Evaluate Ltd and will leverage Inova’s market-leading platform to efficiently organize one-to-one meetings. Over 1500 attendees from more than 61 countries are participating and it includes representatives from 20 Med Therapeutics: Abbvie; Adjuvatis; Amgen; AstraZeneca; Bristol-Myers Squibb; Calixar; Catalent; Dupont; Eli Lilly; EMD Serono; FosunPharma; Fresenius; Gilead; Menarini; Merck; Pfizer; Roche; Sanofi; Takeda; Teva; UCB; and Vaxess.
DBT – India Alliance develops infographic on COVID-19 for public awareness
India Alliance has developed a 3rd infographic on COVID-19 in 2 languages: English and Hindi. More translated versions in other Indian languages will be released soon. This infographic can be used to educate the general public about the new coronavirus. It simply illustrates the origins of the novel coronavirus, how it may have come in contact with humans and shares basic preventive measures to reduce the spread of COVID-19. The infographic conveys these messages in the voice of the new coronavirus itself thereby making it fun and interesting.
ICMR approves DBT’s Pune-based NCCS for testing COVID-19 samples
To facilitate the ongoing efforts against COVID-19 in the country, the National Centre for Cell Science (DBT-NCCS) in Pune, an autonomous institute of the Department of Biotechnology (DBT), will soon begin testing samples for SARS-CoV-2, with approval from the Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR) and the DBT. This is in accordance with the orders received from the Government of India, with DBT-NCCS being one of the Government laboratories identified for carrying out COVID-testing. The necessary resources and the infrastructure were quickly organized by DBT-NCCS to initiate steps in this direction. Further, to ensure that the tests are conducted in compliance with appropriate safety and quality standards, a section of the staff from DBT-NCCS was sent to the National Institute of Virology (ICMR-NIV) in Pune, to be specially trained for this purpose. Fifteen technical staff members and scientists received COVID-related biosafety training and ten technical staff members and scientists received training for COVID testing. Mock testing is being done, and testing of samples will begin in due course. DBT-NCCS is also providing support to CSIR-NCL, IISER-Pune and ARI in their efforts to establish COVID testing labs on their premises.
DBT-CDFD starts testing COVID-19 samples from Telangana
The Department of Biotechnology’s Hyderabad-based Centre for DNA Fingerprinting and Diagnostics (DBT-CDFD) has started testing COVID-19 samples from Telangana on 18th April after due approval from DBT and ICMR. It has so far tested 526 COVID-19 nasopharyngeal swab samples.
The Institute has been nominated by Office of Director, Medical Education, Government of Telangana along with CSIR-CCMB and ESIC as a centre for pooling of samples from selected districts of Telangana with less than 2% prevalence of COVID positive cases. The districts are Janagaon, Wanaparthy, RajannaSircilla, Nagarkurnool, Mahabubabaad, Peddapally, Siddipet, Yadadri, Mulugu, Mancheriyal, Warangal Rural and Narayanpet.
Subsequent to an advisory issued by ICMR on 2nd April 2020, notifying that it has no objection to initiation of COVID-19 testing in laboratories operating under the Department of Biotechnology, CDFD had re-organised the infrastructure to create a designated COVID-19 testing laboratory, procured testing kits and personal protective equipment, and trained the manpower. Senior scientists Drs. Ashwin Dalal, Murali Bashyam, Rashna Bhandari and Harinarayanan are supervising and providing leadership to the task with support from the staff and students. Volunteers were trained at CSIR-CCMB and Osmania Medical College Koti, Hyderabad to conduct RNA preparation and RT-PCR analysis of samples received from different regions of Telangana.
DBT-NABI scientists developing aptamer-based- rapid detection strip for novel coronavirus
To tackle the grave situation caused by SARS-CoV-2 there is an immediate need to design quick and efficient detection methods for the virus. The Department of Biotechnology’s National Agri Food Biotechnology Institute (NABI) is also contributing in research preparedness in the fight against this virus. Dr. Nitin Singhal and his team from NABI are working on development of rapid point-of-care test for COVID-19 using aptamers that will be developed against selected peptides of SARS-CoV-2 membrane spike proteins. Conventional methods for detection such as RT-PCR take 6-8 hours including lengthy protocol and require professional expertise, whereas the proposed method can reduce the detection time to approximately 1-2 hours and can be used conveniently. Also, this detection strip can be used for point-of-care testing. This research is a collaborative work between NABI and Translational Health Sciences and Technology Institute, Faridabad to develop aptamer-based methods for viral detection. In this regard, both the respective groups are sharing their experiences and expertise.
Contact Person & Contact Details: Dr Nitin Singhal; Email: email@example.com ,Phone No. :+91-172-5221243
DBT-NCCS to explore vaccine candidates and therapeutic strategies
DBT-NCCS is envisaging the production of pseudotype SARS-CoV-2 in a BSL-2 setting using a vesicular stomatitis virus (VSV) platform for candidate vaccine development and use in biomedical research. This project aims to generate a pseudovirus and assess its ability to induce a humoral immune response. On the therapeutic side, scientists at the Centre have recently submitted a grant proposal in response to the CSIR-NMITLI call with a goal to generate neutralizing human monoclonal antibodies (hmAbs) against the SARS-Cov-2 from convalescent phase patients, which could be used for passive transfer into other patients with COVID-19.
DBT-THSTI becomes a member of the global COVID-19 Clinical Research Consortium
Prof. Gagandeep Kang, Executive Director, DBTTHSTI has joined the governance of the COVID-19 Clinical Research Consortium and hence DBTTHSTI becomes the member of this global coalition (https://covid19crc.org/members/). The only other member institution from India which is a part of this Consortium is the Christian Medical College (CMC), Vellore. The COVID-19 Clinical Research Coalition aims to accelerate clinical research for COVID-19 in resource-limited settings. The coalition brings together institutions and groups working to fast-track research that will provide evidence on COVID-19 prevention, diagnosis, and case management in such settings. More details can be found on its website www.covid19crc.org.
COVID-19-related efforts of DBT/Wellcome Trust India Alliance
Webinar on COVID-19: Ask the Experts
With the advent of COVID-19 pandemic, there has also been an ‘infodemic’ - viral spread of misinformation and fear. In such times, the role of journalists, media professionals, community reporters and science and health communicators assumes immense importance. India Alliance, Translational Health Science and Technology Institute (THSTI), Faridabad, International AIDSVaccine Initiative (IAVI) and Nature India have partnered to bring together a series of webinars where experts answer questions about COVID-19. The following topics have been covered at the webinars: COVID-19 biology, vaccines, research opportunities, public health impact, bioethics, best practices in fact-checking and reporting a pandemic. So far, four webinars have been organised in this series. In Part 4 of this webinar series, organised on 17 April 2020, Dr Soumitra Pathare, Consultant Psychiatrist, Director, Centre for Mental Health Law & Policy, ILS Pune; Ida Jooste, Global Health Media Advisor, Internews; and Padma Priya, Advocacy and communication specialist, Co-founder and Editor, Suno India discussed the ‘Role of Language in Times of a Pandemic’. The role of language in communicating risk in a public health emergency is critical and has a far-ranging impact on affected populations. The webinar covered the following topics: (i) Talking about a pandemic without spreading fear and stigma - what should communicators know and understand? (ii) The role of metaphors in shaping public understanding and human response. What have previous pandemics taught us in this regard? (iii) Humanising a pandemic; (iv) Talking to different public groups about the pandemic; and (v) Key considerations for shaping the public discourse around the pandemic. Preparation of resources for awareness by India Alliance fellows Tavpritesh Sethi and his team at IIIT (Indraprastha Institute of Information Technology) Delhi have developed an android application WashKaro to share information on proper hygiene and sanitation practices and a webpage and consortium to raise awareness on COVID-19.
To learn more about their app and to connect and collaborate on COVID-19 awarenessraising, click on: https://arxiv.org/pdf/2003.07074.pdf
DBT-National Centre for Cell Science (NCCS) exploring vaccine candidate for COVID-19
The Department of Biotechnology’s National Centre for Cell Science (DBT-NCCS) has initiated research on the generation of a machine learning (ML) model based on patient datasets from Wuhan, Italy, USA and India with a view to explore vaccine candidates. These mathematical model studies would enable identification of the viral sequences which have evolved with time. These diverse sequences could be utilised for designing peptides with different amino acid combinations. Once the combinations are prepared, these could be tested for their efficacy against the COVID-19 virus. It is anticipated that since a combination of peptides identified from diverse viral sequences will be used, these peptides if found active, could act on diverse COVID-19 variants and provide cross-protection even if small genetic variations are found.
DBT-IBSD support to COVID-19 diagnostics in NER
Department of Biotechnology’s Institute of Bioresources and Sustainable Development (DBTIBSD) at Imphal, Manipur is setting up a COVID-19 diagnostic centre at Tura, about 400 km from Shillong on a request from the Government of Meghalaya. Presently, there is only one testing centre in Meghalaya at North Eastern Indira Gandhi Regional Institute of Health and 11 Medical Sciences (NEIGRIHMS) under the Union Ministry of Health and Family Welfare in Shillong. IBSD will provide an RT-PCR machine, refrigerated microcentrifuge, and two freezers, along with technical support and orientation for the use of the equipment. In addition, IBSD is handing over one RT-PCR machine, along with equipment orientation support, to the Government of Manipur’s Jawaharlal Nehru Institute of Medical Sciences (JNIMS) at Imphal to augment its diagnostic facility.
DBT-IBSD initiative on Personal Protective Equipment
Department of Biotechnology’s Institute of Bioresources and Sustainable Development (IBSD) at Imphal, Manipur is in the process of driving large-scale production of locally made hand sanitizers, masks and other personal protection equipment (PPE) kits. It is promoting start-ups and encouraging rural entrepreneurship in Manipur and Meghalaya to strengthen the local supply chain, which will be more resilient to outbreaks and lockdowns and help protect the people from community transmission of this highly contagious COVID-19 infection.
Supporting the fight against COVID-19: Activities launched by DBT-RGCB- KRIBS-BioNest
KRIBS-BioNest is a part of the Department of Biotechnology’s Thiruvananthapuram-based Rajiv Gandhi Centre for Biotechnology (RGCB). It is involved in its translational research activity. It houses 30 Biotechnology start-ups. They have launched several products ranging from nutraceuticals, cosmeceuticals, biomedicals, and diagnostics to probiotics for aquaponics and plant virus testing. In the wake of COVID-19 pandemic, some of the companies took steps to launch products needed to fight the infection and are in the process of procuring drug licence and other such approvals for mass productions. M/s. Bipha Ayurveda Pvt. Ltd has introduced sanitizers with Neem and Papaya extracts, both of which have antibacterial and antifungal properties while M/s. Scire Science Pvt. Ltd has started production of an alcohol-based hand sanitizer and has applied for regulatory approval. These sanitizers are packed in handy compact containers shaped in the form of a pen, which is easy to carry. M/s. Omicsgen Life Science Pvt. Ltd has launched gadget wipes for devices such as mobile phones to prevent the transmission of the microbe. The product assumes importance as handheld devices are becoming an integral part of human life. The company recently got selected in a challenge conducted by DBT’s C-CAMP to select products to combat COVID-19. A total of 840 companies had participated in the contest. C-CAMP will support the start-up to take the product into national and international markets.
Several projects approved under DBT-BIRAC COVID-19 Research Consortium Call
Union Ministry of Science and Technology’s Department of Biotechnology (DBT) and its public sector undertaking Biotechnology Industry Research Assistance Council (BIRAC) have called for project proposals under their COVID-19 Research Consortium. The first phase of the call ended on 30th March 2020, and around 500 applications were received from academia and the industry. A multi-tiered review process is on, and till date, 16 proposals for devices, diagnostics, vaccine candidates, therapeutics and other interventions have been recommended for receiving funding support under the Consortium. A multifaceted approach is being adopted to ensure that vaccine candidates utilising different platforms and at different stages of development are fast-tracked through this Research Consortium under funding from DBT’s National Biopharma Mission. Both repurposing of existing vaccine candidates 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 also to Bharat Biotech International Ltd for a COVID-19 vaccine candidate utilising the inactivated rabies vector platform. Further, Serum Institute of India Private Limited (SIIPL) will be supported for Phase III human clinical trials study of a recombinant BCG vaccine (VPM1002) planned in high-risk populations and National Institute of Immunology for the development of a novel vaccine evaluation platform to support SARS-CoV-2 vaccine development. In addition, OncoSeek Bio Pvt Ltd will be provided support to create an in vitro Lung Organoid model and Virchow Biotech Pvt Ltd. will be supported for production of purified immunoglobulin G (IgG) at commercial scale from COVID-19 convalescent sera and high titers of equine hyper immune globulin for the treatment of COVID-infected patients on a large scale. Following companies will receive financial support 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. Further, a common shared facility to manufacture diagnostic kits and ventilators will be established at Andhra Pradesh MedTech Zone (AMTZ) under National Biopharma Mission to scale up production capacity of different manufacturers. Besides, development and deployment of contactless, affordable thermopile-based ultrasonic sensors for the screening of COVID-19 suspects and indigenous production of novel PPE for healthcare professionals will be supported.
For further information: Contact Communication Cell of DBT/BIRAC
DBT-InStem develops germicidal protection for PPE
Dr. Praveenvemula’s lab at DBT-Institute for Stem Cell Science and Regenerative Medicine (inStem) has developed a proprietary germicidal molecule, which could be used to produce anti-germ facemasks and other personal protection material (PPE). This molecule can be covalently attached to any type of cotton fabric including household cotton and the fabric can then be stitched into PPE such as a facemask. The molecule is effective against both Grampositive and Gram-negative bacteria and even enveloped viruses. Research and testing has concluded that this compound remains attached to the fabric for up to 25 cycles of standard detergent wash (industrial grade) at least. One can use such ‘germicidal’ masks efficiently and repeatedly without much fear by just cleaning them with regular soap wash at home or dipping them in boiling water for five minutes and drying, thus resulting in better waste management and environmental pollution. This compound can be scaled at the industrial level.
DBT-ILS starts testing for COVID-19
DBT-Institute of Life Sciences (DBT-ILS), Bhubaneshwar has started testing for COVID-19 in its newly commissioned BSL 3 facility after due approval of DBT and Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR). COVID-19 testing commenced from April 14, 2020 with 55 samples provided by Health and Family Welfare Department of Odisha Government.
Special session of DBT-BIRAC’s FIRST HUB for COVID-19 solutions
Department of Biotechnology and its PSU Biotechnology Industry Research Assistance Council (BIRAC) have initiated a special FIRST HUB (Facilitation of Innovation and Regulation for Start-ups and Innovators) Weekly Session only for COVID-19 solutions. BIRAC has set up FIRST HUB to help promote government initiatives on Start-up India and Make in India. It addresses the queries of start–ups, entrepreneurs, researchers, academicians, incubation centres, and SMEs. The policies, rules and regulations keep changing, and keeping pace with the fast changing ecosystem is next to impossible for small companies and young entrepreneurs. BIRAC, through its various programmes, is already facilitating research and innovation and FIRST HUB is envisaged to complete the 360 degree start-up facilitation. FIRST HUB is open on every first Friday of the month at BIRAC office from 3:00 pm to 5:00 pm. Officers from DBT, BIRAC, ICMR, CDSCO, BIS, NIB and other relevant government organisations will be available for taking queries related to: l Regulatory pathways and regulations; l Funding opportunities; l Mentorship; l Investment opportunities; l Market access; l Industry-Academia partnerships; and l Intellectual Property.
Webinar on Covid-19: Role of Language in a Pandemic
Department of Biotechnology’s Faridabad-based associated institution Translational Health Science and Technology Institute (THSTI), India Alliance, IAVI and Nature India organised the fourth webinar on COVID-19 “Ask the Experts” on April 17th, 2020 at 4pm. The webinar was titled Role of Language during a Pandemic.
DBT’s RGCB among other laboratories have been designated as authorized agency for COVID-19 testing in Kerala
The Health & Family Welfare Department, Government of Kerala issued COVID-19 guidelines for distribution of laboratories. The World Health Organization (WHO) has declared the COVID-19 epidemic affecting more than 197 countries as a pandemic. Due to the inflow of people from affected countries, the State of Kerala has strengthened its surveillance and control measures against the disease. As part of improving capacity to test samples taken from suspected and contacts, more labs from public sector are added to the pool in the State with ICMR approval. Rajeev Gandhi Center for Biotechnology (RGCB), Thiruvananthapuram, an autonomous institution of Department of Biotechnology (DBT) has been designated as a diagnostic laboratory for COVID-19 testing.
DBT’s RGCB Laboratory Medicine & Molecular Diagnostic (LMMD) Facility
COVID-19 Diagnostic Protocols include: l NABL, NABH, and ILAC accredited laboratory, l Part of the National Network of “A grade” Virology laboratories certified by ICMR since 2011 and currently an approved COVID-19 diagnostic facility, l Operates with BSL 2 and BSL3 practice, l Has 2 viral burnout laminar flow, which does not contaminate the environment with corona virus, l Four class-3 laminar flow equipment, l Effluent treatment plant for safe discharge of biological waste, l Personnel highly trained to handle all viral diseases with experience of over 10 years in viral diagnosis, l Full personal protection gear (PPE) used for all deployed staff, Four high-end in vitro diagnostic certified machines used for testing, 8 l Four “minus 80” freezers for sample storage, l Six “minus 20” freezers for reagent storage, l Two refrigerated centrifuges for RNA extraction, l Electronic pipettes are used for testing which prevents error in volumetric measurement, l 30KvA UPS back up for 5 hours continuous operation, l Two diesel generators back up for unlimited time, l Testing time less than 3 hours 30 minutes, l Rated sample processing capacity of 3072 run per day (24 Hours), l Declared testing capacity as of now, 500 tests per day.
Testing process followed at lab is given: l Sample received after confirming cold-chain maintenance. If not maintained, samples are rejected, l Sample barcode generated and work list made at the front desk, l The work list along with pending work list, if any, is assigned to the technologist on duty assigned for sample aliquoting, l Aliquoted sample from the designated aliquoting room is transferred through the pass box to DBN/RNA extraction room where the designated staff will process it. Usually, manual isolation is done, especially when the sample volume is low and/or when doing viruses as manual process gives better
COVID-19: A new diagnostic kit promises to detect infection in four days
Researchers at Rajiv Gandhi Centre for Biotechnology (RGCB), Thiruvananthapuram, are in the final stages of developing a kit that promises to detect SARS CoVID-19 infection as early as four days postinfection of the virus. The kit will be able to detect two types of antibodies – Immunoglobulin M (IgM) and Immunoglobulin G (IgG). IgM is the first antibody that appears in the human body when it is exposed to a virus or any other antigen. The presence of IgG antibody in the body, in contrast, is indicative of an individual’s immune status to particular pathogens.
BIRAC partners with Invest India for CSR funds for its research consortium
Department of Biotechnology’s public sector undertaking Biotechnology Industry Research Assistance Council (BIRAC) has entered into a partnership with Invest India to seek CSR Funds for its COVID-19 Research Consortium. 9 The consortium has been set up with a view to accelerate development of diagnostics, vaccines, novel therapeutics and re-purposing of drugs for this novel coronavirus. There is limited current level of knowledge about the new virus. Critical research questions need to be answered urgently and ways have to be found to fund priority research that can contribute to curtail this outbreak and prepare for future outbreaks.
Startup Street: CCAMP launches accelerator to fast track COVID-19 related innovations
Startup Street: CCAMP launches accelerator to fast track COVID-19 related innovations: The report focuses on the mood of India’s startup ecosystem, both founders and investors, on business continuity, fundraising and future outlook. CNBC-TV18 caught up with Sanjay Mehta, founder and partner at 100X.VC for details. Also, the Centre for Cellular and Molecular Platforms (C-CAMP) has launched C-CAMP COVID-19 Innovations Deployment Accelerator or C-CIDA to identify and fast-track immediately deploy-able or near ready COVID-19 innovations across India. The accelerator, which was launched on March 26, has so far selected 18 near deployment-ready COVID-19 innovations across critical categories such as rapid diagnostic kits, assisted respiratory devices, remote vital stats monitoring systems, and several others. CNBC-TV18 spoke to Taslimarif Saiyed, CEO and director at C-CAMP and discussed the innovations that are coming out of the accelerator
Workshop to upskill COVID testing facilities
Department of Biotechnology’s Biotechnology Industry Research Assistance Council (BIRAC) is holding a workshop to bring frontline workers, especially scientists, clinicians and lab technicians, dealing with the COVID19 crisis up to date on the various aspects involved in the diagnosis of the infection. The programme will focus on a better understanding of structural details of SARS-CoV-2 virus. This real-time PCR platform is used for detection of the virus, the practical requirements of the facilities and personal protective equipment needed in a diagnostic lab. The programme will, among other things, focus on the precautions that need to be taken while handling samples.
IHF’s quest to support innovations to tackle respiratory diseases, including COVID-19
As Governments across the world grapple with containing COVID-19, the India Health Fund (IHF) is looking to support innovations that can fight respiratory and airborne infections through its nationwide search, Quest 2020. The quest will provide an opportunity for innovators, scientists and entrepreneurs across sectors to share novel prototypes, which could be game changers in the fight against these diseases, IHF added. Quest 2020’s nationwide search for innovations is already open, and innovators have till April 22, 2020, to send in their applications. The primary aim of this initiative is to support the government’s ambitious goal to eliminate tuberculosis in India by 2025 and join the fight against the deadly new coronavirus.
India’s S&T institutions raise their game against COVID-19
With over 1.3 billion people in Her bosom, the spread of coronavirus in India and India’s response mechanisms are being closely watched over by the rest of the world. Led by the Hon’ble Prime Minister, Narendra Modi, India is battling this virus with all its might. Invoking the Disaster Management Act of 2015, India announced a complete lockdown on March 25 for a period of 21 days. The early announcement of a lockdown, when the infected count was less than 400, was well appreciated by WHO. Setting up of a COVID-19 Task Force and announcement of a series of ‘social distancing’ and other serious measures.
C-CAMP picks 13 ideas to tackle the COVID-19 epidemic
A special accelerator focused on COVID-19 has identified 13 innovations, including assisted respiratory devices, air and surface sanitizing technologies and a cold-chain viral swab sample transport that could be deployed to tackle the epidemic. The identified innovations include assisted respiratory devices by Biodesign Innovation Labs and Aerobiosys Innovations and remote vital parameter monitoring systems from MedIoTek Heath Systems, Cardiac Design Labs, Nemocare and Dozee and air and surface sanitizing technologies from LeafBox Technologies, Biomoneta and Clensta.
Efforts underway to produce therapeutic antibodies against COVID-19
Prof Vijay Chaudhary’s group at University of Delhi South Campus-Centre for Innovation in Infectious Disease Research, Education and Training (UDSC-CIIDRET), supported by the Department of Biotechnology (DBT), is isolating genes encoding antibodies, which can neutralize the SARS-CoV-2 using an extensive antibody library already available in-house as well as a library made from cells of patients who have recovered from COVID-19 infection.
BIRAC supported Twenty In-Market Startup Products
IndiaFightsCorona: Details of 20 In-Market products from BIRAC supported Startups as potential COVID solutions can be found in the following link. FetalLite: It is an instrument devised to monitor the fetal heart rate for the womenin-labour. LUNGIQ: It is an instrument devised to review precision insights from Lung CTs.
COVID-19: DBT-backed consortium aims to produce therapeutic antibodies
Anti-COVID Consortium backed by the Department of Biotechnology (DBT) involving the public-private partnership is working to produce therapeutic antibodies against SARS-CoV-2.
Covid Gyan serves as a hub to bring together a collection of resources in response to the COVID-19 outbreak. These resources are generated by research institutions in India and several associated programmes. The content presented on the website provides a scientific understanding of the disease and its transmission. The main objective of the website is to create public awareness and bring in a holistic approach to the understanding of COVID-19 disease and potential means to mitigate it. Various autonomous institutions associated with the Department of Biotechnology (DBT) are resource providers to this initiative, like the Institute for Stem Cell Science and Regenerative Medicine (InStem) and the Centre for Cellular And Molecular Platforms (C-CAMP).
A new kit to detect COVID-19 infection
Researchers at the Rajiv Gandhi Centre for Biotechnology (RGCB), Thiruvananthapuram are in the final stages of developing a kit that promises to help detect SARS CoVID-19 infection as early as four days post-infection of the virus. The kit will be able to detect two types of antibodies - Immunoglobulin M (IgM) and Immunoglobulin G (IgG).
COVID-19 Research Consortium
Department of Biotechnology (DBT) and Biotechnology Industry Research Assistance Council (BIRAC) announce COVID-19 research consortium and request for proposal with a focus on Diagnostics, Vaccines, Novel Therapeutics, Repurposing of Drugs or any other intervention for control of COVID-19.
THSTI-ESICMC&H partnership for COVID-19 testing
THSTI bioassay lab will now function as an extension of diagnostic facility of ESIC Medical College and Hospital - Faridabad for COVID-19 testing. The first and only COVID-19 testing facility in the Faridabad region. The MoU signed between the two institutes will also enable training of manpower and capacity building at ESI hospital for COVID-19 testing by the bioassay lab team.
ICGEB launches COVID-19/SARS-CoV-2 Resource Platform
The ICGEB platform, which has been fully integrated into the state-of-the-art Web site at ICGEB, offers Tools with links to Resources and Procedures, including Protocols for Standard Operating Procedures (SOP) in the preparation, isolation and detection of Sars-CoV-2 RNA by Polymerase Chain Reaction (PCR), Reagents for positive control, and a Sequencing Service for local isolates of the virus, through our partner lab in the AREA Science Park. The ICGEB is offering Technical Assistance in the form of on-line Video Tutorials in the preparation, isolation and detection of Sars-CoV-2 RNA, as well as Remote, Technical Assistance during the reproduction of SOPs.
Rajiv Gandhi Centre Biotechnology to develop humanised monoclonal antibodies to treat COVID-19
The monoclonal antibodies are antibodies that recognise only specific proteins, called antigens, on the surface of specific bacteria or viruses. To deploy them as treatment, scientists take monoclonal antibodies produced by mice and change their protein sequences to resemble those of humans. These humanised monoclonal antibodies have a lower chance of being rejected by the patient’s body as well as can be mass produced in mouse cell lines. According to Dr. Pillai, the RGCB had a technology transfer agreement with the Oklahoma Medical Research Foundation to develop such humanised monoclonal antibodies.
NII to develop antibody-based therapy for COVID-19
DBT’s National Institute of Immunology (NII) in Delhi is going to procure coronavirus and blood samples from recovered patients. Dr. Amulya Panda, Director, NII, says that the samples from recovered patients will help in analysing the antibody quality in the blood with an aim to develop an antibody-based therapy. According to Dr Panda, studies are also underway on the spike protein of the novel coronavirus to develop a vaccine. Scientist at NII will utilize their previous expertise of vaccine development. They have previously developed an immunomodulator for leprosy and are well equipped, from the laboratory to animal house and to the product development cell, to take a vaccine candidate from the laboratory to industry.
THSTI efforts to understand the epidemiology of COVID-19
The Translational Health Science and Technology Institute (THSTI), Faridabad, is working on an ELISA test for serological studies across the country which will essentially help understand the extent of disease spread in India. According to Dr. Gagandeep Kang, executive director, THSTI, the epidemiology research should take centre stage at this point in the life of the pandemic in India. Dr. Kang said that it would help in understanding where and to what extend the disease has spread in India. According to her, the Indian population is dense and there are so many poor people. Social distancing, therefore, may be a difficult proposition. The first task should be boosting public health research to help control the spread. The next step should be research for developing additional diagnostic tools, drugs and vaccines.
DBT’s Consortium for Medical equipments, Diagnostics, Therapeutics, Drugs and Vaccines development
Speaking during a meeting conducted by Dr. Harsh Vardhan to reviews the sampling and testing strategy for COVID 19, Dr. Renu Swarup, Secretary, DBT, informed that the Department of Biotechnology has formed a Consortium to support the development of medical equipments, diagnostics, therapeutics, drugs and vaccines to meet the healthcare challenges posed by COVID-19.
Dr. Swarup stated that the manufacturing capacity of the First Indigenous kit developed by Start up in Pune is being scaled up to produce nearly one lakh kits per week. A manufacturing facility for indigenous development of Ventilators, testing kits, imaging equipment and ultrasound and high end radiology equipment has been set up in Vishakhapatnam where manufacturing will start in first week of April. The DBT along with Drug Controller General of India (DGCI) has developed and notified a Rapid Response Regulatory Framework to provide expedited regulatory approvals for all diagnostics drugs and vaccines.
Development of diagnostic kit for COVID-19 by THSTI
According to Dr. Gagandeep Kang, executive director of DBT’s Faridabad based autonomous institute, the Translational Health Sciences and Technology (THSTI), institute is developing its own diagnostic kit for COVID-19. At present most of the kits used in India at current time are developed by the National Institute of Virology (NIV), Pune. NIV is also validating nine alternative kits from private firms. Such validation involves running clinical samples through the kits and measuring the rates of false-positive and false-negative results. The THSTI’s diagnostic kit is still some time away from being ready to use.
According to Dr. Kang, Government of India’s memo regarding easing the norms of on COVID-19 research will make it easier to validate the test with human samples at THSTI also. Such efforts will boost the development of diagnostics and conducting clinical trials in this regard.
DBT’s Rapid Response Regulatory Framework for COVID-19
The Department of Biotechnology (DBT), Government of India along with Drug Controller General of India (DCGI) has developed and notified a Rapid Response Regulatory Framework to provide expedited regulatory approvals for all diagnostics drugs and vaccines. Vaccine development is being supported with three Indian industries. Research on therapeutic and drug development has started. According to reports from Union Health Ministry, ministry is talking to all states and union territories about the action plan being undertaken by the stake holders.
C-CAMP propelled technology accelerator partnership with UNHIE & Social Alpha for developing technologies
The DBT’s Bengaluru based bio-incubator, the Centre for Cellular and Molecular Platforms (C-CAMP) has quickly catapulted a technology accelerator in partnership with the United Nations Health Innovation Exchange (UNHIE) and the non-profit firm Social Alpha to help innovators, start-ups and entrepreneurs with breakthrough innovations. According to Dr, Taslimarif Saiyed, CEO C-CAMP, the innovators will be able to take full advantage of an ecosystem of scientists, regulators, investors and industry in closing last-mile gaps in commercialising their technologies.
DBT as a part of task force for mapping of technologies on COVID-19
The Department of Science and Technology (DST) is coordinating an effort to upscale the appropriate technologies and manufacturing available in India for addressing a plethora of issues related to COVID-19, as well as scout for new and developing solutions more relevant to the country to help prepare the country for exigencies arising out of COVID-19 pandemic. The Department of Biotechnology along with other stakeholders have been made a part of such task force. The capacity mapping group will identify the most promising start-ups that are close to scale-up and may need financial or other help or connects or projected demand to rapidly scale up. The nodal officers of concerned Ministries and Departments have been requested to expedite the process of obtaining information on such start-ups and other entities supported by them that have technology solutions for any important aspect of COVID-19.
DST and DBT funded startup develops silver-based disinfectant to fight COVID-19 pandemic
Weinnovate Biosolutions, a Pune based startup supported jointly by the Department of Science and Technology (DST) and Department of Biotechnology (DBT), has developed a non-alcoholic aqueous-based colloidal silver solution uniquely made from its NanoAgCide technology for disinfecting hands and environmental surfaces.
The newly developed disinfectant is non-inflammable and free of hazardous chemicals and can pose as an effective sanitizer to prevent the spread of the infection through contact, the prime method of transmission of the pandemic, thereby protecting health professionals and infected people.