Coronavirus vaccine: 6 Indian firms race against time to develop cure but patience only option

Research on a COVID-19 vaccine in India is at a very early stage of development and candidates are likely to reach animal trials only by the end of the year, says leading virologist Shahid Jameel

At least six Indian firms are working on the development of COVID-19 vaccine At least six Indian firms are working on the development of COVID-19 vaccine

As Indian companies struggle to develop a vaccine for COVID-19, which has infected over 1 lakh people and claimed over 3,700 lives in India so far, experts opine that research in the country is still at a nascent stage and any solid breakthrough is not likely within a year.  At least six Indian companies are working on coronavirus vaccine, but a vaccine is unlikely to be ready for mass use before 2021.

While Zydus Cadila was working on two vaccines, Serum Institute, Biological E, Bharat Biotech, Indian Immunologicals, and Mynvax were developing one vaccine each, Gagandeep Kang, executive director of the Translational Health Science and Technology Institute, Faridabad, had told PTI last month.

The WHO has listed Serum Institute of India, Zydus Cadila, Indian Immunologicals Limited and Bharat Biotech from India among the firms involved in developing a vaccine.

Pitching for developing a vaccine to fight the COVID-19 pandemic, PMO had recently said that it is the most pressing need and Indian academia, start-ups and industry have come together to work on cutting-edge vaccine design and development.

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The central government and private firms have stepped up efforts to develop a vaccine to contain the spread of the coronavirus. PM CARES Fund Trust has decided to allocate Rs 100 crore for coronavirus vaccine development efforts, as per the report.

The Department of Biotechnology has been made a central coordination agency to identify pathways for vaccine development.

According to leading virologist Shahid Jameel, India's vaccine manufacturing capacity is quite remarkable and at least three Indian companies - Serum Institute, Bharat Biotech and Biologicals E are at the forefront, working with international partners to manufacture a vaccine for COVID-19. "Research on a COVID vaccine in India is at a very early stage of development and candidates are likely to reach animal trials only by the end of the year," he told PTI.

However, Indian vaccine companies have a lot of capacity and expertise, and are likely to play a significant role in bringing new COVID-19 vaccines to the market. This experience is important for institutions, industry and regulators to work together, and prepare for the future, said Jameel, a Shanti Swarup Bhatnagar Prize winner for Science and Technology and the current Chief Executive Officer of Wellcome Trust/Department of Biotechnology's India Alliance.

CSIR-Centre for Cellular & Molecular Biology (CCMB) Director Rakesh Mishra said, "From what we know, we are not at an advanced stage of vaccine development at the moment." "There are lots of ideas and companies initiating vaccine development process but there is nothing on trial in terms of vaccine candidates," he told PTI.

India is quite behind because the coronavirus came to India two-three months later so "we did not have the (inactivated) virus to test or even the urgency", Mishra said, adding that the Chinese and US are quite ahead in vaccine development. "If a comparison has to be made we are well behind international efforts," he said.

Indian firms along with their foreign collaborators are racing against time to develop a vaccine against COVID-19 with over 52 lakh cases and over 3.35 lakh fatalities across the globe.

India's total count of COVID-19 cases crossed the 1.25 lakh-mark on Friday as infections keep mounting across the country. As many as 6,654 cases were reported in the last 24 hours, the highest single-day jump, taking the country's tally to 1,25,101. India now has 69,597 active cases, and 3,720 deaths, according to Union Health Ministry.

By Chitranjan Kumar with PTI inpputs