India is making efforts to develop vaccine to treat COVID-19 patients, which will cost USD 2-3 billion, said Prof K Vijay Raghavan, Principal Scientific Advisor (PSA) to the Government of India, here on Thursday.
Prof Raghavan, who was speaking at a press conference here, said the vaccine is given to the normal population, not the sick people. "Hence it is necessary that it is properly tested and its quality and safety are ensured." "Vaccine normally takes 10-15 years to develop and costs 200-300 million dollars. Our effort now is to do this in one year. Hence, we need to do parallel processing. Instead of working on only one COVID-19 vaccine, the world is working on over 100 vaccines at the same time," he said.
"We have to speed up regulatory processes, expand manufacturing capacity, and build the distribution systems. So, instead of 200-300 million dollars, it will cost 2-3 billion dollars," added Prof Raghavan.
According to him, in India three types of COVID-19 vaccine development efforts are being undertaken.
"There are three types of COVID-19 vaccine development efforts are being undertaken -- fully indigenous, collaboration with foreign players where we are leading and the collaboration where others are leading the development," he said.
Prof Raghavan said that RT-PCR test is to find the presence of the virus and is agnostic whether you have symptoms or not.
"Whether you are asymptomatic, if you have a virus, RT-PCR test will detect it. We have not seen any change in the fundamental properties of the virus so far. In the next few months both nationally and internationally tests will be available that can be done on an individual," he added.
Commenting upon the developments in serological diagnostic testing announced by the Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR), Prof Raghavan said: "ICMR and Department of Biotechnology laboratories have developed the protocol for a test called enzyme-linked immunosorbent assay (ELISA). This is a serological test in the sense that it looks at serum and test for anti-bodies. The test is highly specific and sensitive."
"The ICMR's test is being rolled out. This test has an important role to play, depending upon the level of specificity and sensitivity. For use on an individual level, certain bars are needed. If you do not have those bars, you can still use them for community testing in the context where you know what the community prevalence. There are other kinds of tests having more sensitivity which will be coming in a few months," he added.
Prof Raghavan also informed that All India Council for Technical Education (AICTE) and Council of Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR) have embarked on a drug discovery hackathon to fight against COVID-19.
He said the hackathon is a high-end hackathon where students are trained with information on how to do computational drug discovery.
Prof Raghavan said that India's vaccine manufacturing is world-class. "India is also one of the world's biggest generics manufacturers. Our vaccine companies are now also into vaccine development and R&D, not just manufacturing."
"There are about 30 groups in India including big industry, startups and academics, who are working on COVID-19 vaccine development. About 20 of them are keeping a good pace," he said.
Prof Raghavan said that as vaccine development is a very risky process, many firms will stockpile vaccines even before they are ready in the hope that this will be effective. "In this scenario, global consortia help mitigate risk and ensure equity of access," he added.
"When a vaccine is made, it is not like a switch which will be available for everyone from Day 1. Everyone would need this. Logistics of making COVID-19 vaccine accessible to everyone is a big challenge, this is being discussed now," he added.
Prof Raghavan said that as we are waiting for drugs and vaccines to fight against COVID-19, we need to do five things to win over COVID-19 -- hygiene, decontamination of surfaces, physical distancing, tracking, and testing.
"These are in our hands, as we wait for drugs and vaccines," he added.
Dr VK Paul, Member, NITI Aayog and Chairman, Empowered Group 1, said the fight against coronavirus will be won through vaccine and drugs as India's science and technology institutions and pharma industry are very strong.
"The fight against coronavirus will be won through vaccine and drugs. Our country's science and technology institutions and pharma industry are very strong. India's pharma industry is known as the pharmacy of the world and vaccines made in India are being used and are known all over the world," said Dr Paul, who was also addressing a press conference here.
Dr Paul, while highlighting India's efforts on the development of drugs, vaccines and technologies for testing, said: "We are very proud of our strong scientific base, strong pharmaceutical industry. All our scientific institutes are fighting against COVID-19."
The Central government has formed the Empowered Group 1 for coordinating medical emergency management plan in view of the coronavirus pandemic.
With 6,566 more coronavirus cases and 194 deaths reported in the past 24 hours, India's COVID-19 count reached 1,58,333 on Thursday, according to the Union Ministry of Health and Family Welfare.
The number of active coronavirus cases stands at 86,110, while 67,692 people have recovered and one patient has migrated. The death toll due to the infection has reached 4,531 in the country.