India went under complete lockdown on 25 March to contain the spread of COVID-19, which has infected 4,281,838 people worldwide and claimed 292,376 lives. The scientific community across the globe is working on different drugs and conducting clinical trials to figure out a way to end the spread of the virus.
Director of India’s National Institute of Pharmaceutical Education and Research (NIPER), Ahmedabad, Kiran Kalia talked to Sputnik about the current status of vaccine development, its production, as well as available drugs and treatments.
Sputnik: Scientists across the world are working on vaccines and drugs to find a cure for COVID-19. Where is India in the effort of making an effective drug/vaccine against the virus?
Kiran Kalia: We have phase 1 and phase 2 clinical trials for the vaccines going on in foreign countries, but as our principal scientific advisor Dr Vijay Raghvan has mentioned, 30 different attempts are going on in India to develop the vaccine. The important one is the one by the National Institute of Virology in Pune. They have transferred the virus strain to Bharat Biotech International Limited. And they are developing the vaccine partnered with the ICMR (Indian Council of Medical Research).
We have a good manufacturing capability at Serum Institute of India, which has partnered with Oxford University to produce a large amount of vaccine doses. Although the Oxford University Vaccine is under phase 2 trial, they are so sure about the outputs of the trial that they have even started manufacturing. So when they get the trial result, they will have a lot of doses available for people.
These are the two vaccines where we are hopeful of the output.
Zydus Cadila, in the Indian scenario, is also working on a nucleic acid-based vaccine programme because they have their own independent vaccine production unit. We are hopeful Zydus will come out with some good vaccines.
Sputnik: When do we expect these vaccines to come into use?
Kiran Kalia: Vaccination will not start unless we get approval from the FDA (Food and Drug Administration). Because the clinical trials are going on, once they are over, only then can vaccination take place.
When any organisation, like Oxford University, has given good candidates for a vaccine; they are very sure about their result. They know that since this has cleared phase 1, phase 2 trial, they have even gone to the animal studies and found that it is a very effective vaccine. Based upon the previous data and how it has developed, you become sure that it will clear the final clinical trials on humans. If you are confident in your data, we take the risk of producing. Because we are in a situation where we don’t have sufficient time to wait for the trials to get over and then wait for production, which itself would take time. Maybe by the end of the year, we will have the vaccine. India has huge manufacturing capacity and whichever country comes with the vaccine after clearing the clinical trial, we will probably be the hub for making doses for them.
Sputnik: Like hyroxychloronique, what are the other drugs which are under consideration for treatment?
Kiran Kalia: Production of HCQ has had a little bit controversy due to the cardiac toxicity, but apart from the patients who are having cardiac complications, it has shown some beneficial effects on the other patients.
A lot of work is going on in the re-purposing of the existing anti-viral drugs. At NIPER also we are working in collaboration with the IIT (Indian Institute of Technology) Delhi and we have come out with some of the important molecules which show good potential as therapeutic targets for COVID-19.
Sputnik: How effective is the ayurvedic treatment?
Kiran Kalia: Ayurvedic organisation and AYUSH are also giving good recommendations for boosting immunity and the use of ancient knowledge of herbs, which they are trying on COVID patients. We have developed a similar strategy with Troikaa Pharma, where immunity boosters such as Zinc, selenium, Vitamin doses are given in combination with ayurvedic herbs and recommended breathing exercises. Such a support system is good for asymptomatic patients who are quarantined.
Some of the employees at Troikaa Pharma got infected with the virus, so we started giving them the treatment as they were quarantined in their houses and after 10 days of the diagnosis, they recovered. And when others at the office were given the same, none of them developed COVID.
It is not a treatment but a preventive measure with a combination strategy to improve immunity.
Sputnik: Are we going to see another wave of COVID-19 and a rise in cases?
Kiran Kalia: You cannot have a lockdown for this long. But people have to control themselves. Even when we open the lockdown, it will be opened in a restricted manner. This is a good stand. But if the green zone is open, then it should be under certain lockdown so that people from the orange and red zones do not go into it. But there are various factors in a country like ours where there is a huge population, and the socio-economic structure of the country is different from the developed countries. But ultimately, if you open up, this will develop herd immunity in the population. Although we believe us Indians have a good immunity system, probably when we develop herd immunity in our people, it may not spur very high. But this is all speculation. It is based on a certain growth rate and recovery rate, but the situation is different state-wise.
If it wasn’t for the lockdown, the situation in India would have been much worse.