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To fight future pandemics, industry, academia must work in peacetime

During the international meeting at the Translational Health Science and Technology Institute (THSTI) in Faridabad, experts suggested that India needs to work together during peacetime to develop a vaccine against a new pathogen.

A library of vaccine platforms for pathogens with pandemic potential needs to be created in academia, and the industry needs to be able to manufacture raw materials as well as the finished product.

It’s great that the Department of Biotechnology and THSTI is leading India’s IndCEPI programme for future preparedness. The biotechnology Department was at the forefront of the pandemic response and took unprecedented steps to stop Covid-19. A two-day meeting concluded on Tuesday with Union Minister for Science Dr Jitendra Singh. (It) set up patient cohorts, bioassays, immune and cellular response tests, and animal studies necessary for vaccine development, and supported the vaccine industry in developing India’s first DNA and protein subunit vaccine, Corbevax.

The discussions will be distilled into a roadmap for policymakers, said THSTI Director Pramod Garg. Among those who attended are former WHO chief scientist Dr Soumya Swaminathan, former principal scientific adviser Professor K VijayRaghanvan, and former director of the National Institute of Virology Dr Priya Abraham.

For more equitable vaccine distribution, Swaminathan said manufacturing capabilities need to be developed across the world.

The academy should work on various disease biology and compatible vaccine platforms, even if there isn’t an epidemic, in partnership with the industry from the start, experts said.

“You can only get disease biology knowledge from academia,” said Dr Sanjay Singh from Gennova, which developed India’s mRNA vaccine.

Panacea Biotech’s Harshet Jain said academia couldn’t start working when a pandemic hits. He said that we need academia to create ideation banks that are shared with industry, adding that working with industry early on can prevent regulatory problems.

Incidentally, THSTI, Panacea Biotech, and CEPI (Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations) are working on a vaccine against SARS, MERS, and other betacoronaviruses. CEPI is funding the consortium with $12 million.

Professor Vijay Raghavan said biotech research has to happen in a broader ecosystem than just a few elite institutions.

Manufacturing and distribution networks also need to be set up all over the world, said Dr Swaminathan. Vaccine manufacturing isn’t widespread in African countries, so establishing it would ensure both rapid production and equitable distribution.

It’s not just about the finished product. India needs to increase its raw material manufacturing too.

Instead of clinical research organizations picking up sites that may have little experience, there needs to be a network of elite institutions across the country that can help with quality assurance.

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