CSIR ties up with corporates to fight coronavirus

M Ramesh Chennai | Updated on March 29, 2020

Five-pronged battle is in partnership with TCS, BHEL and Cipla, among others

India’s Council for Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR) has tied up with many companies, including TCS, BHEL and Cipla, to fight Covid-19.

CSIR is a government body that has 38 research institutions under its administrative control, each with a mandate to develop technologies in different areas of science for industry’s use.

As such, it is in the forefront of fighting the coronavirus pandemic. Overseen by a ‘core team’ comprising the Director General, Dr Shekhar Mande, and eight other directors, CSIR has devised a five-pronged attack on the pandemic. For each of the prongs, CSIR has tied up with a few companies.

At the other end, the scientific body is in talks with NGOs to quickly bring manufacturing opportunities to migrant workers returning to their rural homes. CSIR labs have several technologies that can be used by rural folk to produce marketable things. However, now villagers could be taught to make stuff like masks and sanitisers.

In a chat with BusinessLine, Dr Mande said the five verticals were surveillance and digital monitoring, diagnostics and testing, development of drugs or repurposing of existing drugs for fighting the pandemic, assisting hospitals with machines and consumables and creating a supply chain for products people use, such as masks and sanitisers.

Paper-based tests

Quick testing of samples is key to identifying affected people, but test equipment are very expensive. For example, a RT-PCR machine costs between ₹10 lakh and ₹20 lakh, depending on the features. For quick, low-cost tests, CSIR is trying to bring in an emerging technology, called ‘paper-bases tests’. In this, pocket-sized papers embedded with biosensors are freeze-dried and kept for use. When a drop of sample is put on the paper, it tells you whether the sample has the virus or not. This is truly cutting-edge technology, developed by the Wyss Institute at Harvard, which can enable mass testing.

Along with this, CSIR is also bringing in sero-diagnostics (diagnosis based on the study of blood serum). Dr Mande said that two CSIR institutions — Indian Institute of Chemical Biology, Kolkata, and Institute of Genomics and Integrative Biology, New Delhi — have been pressed into action for bringing in these tests for coronavirus.

Repurposing existing drugs

World over, researchers are trying to pick drugs from those already in use to see if they work against Covid-19 — because developing new drugs specific to the virus takes too long. CSIR labs, Dr Mande said, are developing new processes to produce off-patent drugs, so that the drugs can be produced in quick time. For this, it has tied up with a few pharmaceutical companies, notably, Cipla. To develop new drugs, CSIR has sought the collaboration of software giant TCS.

In a call to its institutions to come up with proposals to fight Covid-19, CSIR says that drugs such as hydroxy chloroquine, azithromycin, remdesivir and lupinivir “have been found to be useful in the treatment of coronavirus.”

It further says that the “repositioning of launched or even failed drugs to viral diseases provides unique translational opportunities, including substantially higher probability of success to market as compared with developing new virus-specific drugs and vaccines, and a significantly reduced cost and time line to clinical availability.”

BHEL to produce equipment

Dr Mande said that CSIR has tied up with (among other companies) the public sector heavy electricals major, BHEL, to produce equipment such as ventilators and electrostatic sprays.

Alongside, the scientific body is developing supply chains so as to reach to the public, protective materials such as masks and hand-sanitisers.

“This (coronavirus episode) is more than a war,” Dr Mande said, adding that he was personally monitoring the progress of the teams that are working for solutions.

Published on March 29, 2020

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