30 groups in India working on COVID19 vaccine development

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Mumbai, May 28, 2020 : “Indian industry is working on at least 8 candidate vaccines, out of which 4 are relatively ahead. Our national science laboratories are working on 6 candidate vaccines, out of which we are very hopeful about 2 – 3”. This was announced by Chairman, Empowered Group – I and Member (Health), NITI Aayog, Dr. V. K. Paul at a media briefing held at National Media Centre, PIB New Delhi today. Dr. Paul was joined by Principal Scientific Advisor to the Government of India, Professor K. Vijay Raghavan, as they together informed the nation about the progress in development of vaccines, drugs and testing technologies for COVID-19.

Dr. Paul also informed:

  • About 20 companies have provided COVID-19 diagnostic kits to the nation, when our needs are met, we will provide to world as well. By July 2020, we will be able to indigenously produce 5 lakh testing kits per day.
  • Our regulatory system for development of drugs, vaccines and diagnostics is working in mission mode in giving fast clearances without compromising on methodology and safety
  • HCQ is to be used as per the conditions given in the guidelines, we believe that the benefits outweigh the risks.
  • Science & technology will be the definitive weapon in conclusively winning over COVID-19. We are very proud of our strong scientific base, strong pharmaceutical industry, both these dimensions are very strong. All our scientific institutes are fighting the pandemic. India’s pharma industry is known as pharmacy of the world. Vaccines made in India are being used and are known all over the world.


Speaking on vaccine development efforts, the Principal Scientific Advisor to the Government of India informed that 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:

  • 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.
  • The COVID-19 disease spreads because the immune response takes some time, by which time the virus overwhelms us. With vaccine, we can be ready for immune response when the virus attacks us.
  • Vaccine is given to normal population, not 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. Our effort now is to do this in 1 year. Hence, we need to do parallel processing. Instead of working on 1 COVID-19 vaccine, the world is working on ~ 100 vaccines at the same time.
  • Simultaneously, we have to speed up regulatory processes without compromising on safety, expand manufacturing capacity and build distribution systems, so, instead of $ 200 – 300 million, it will cost $ 2 – 3 billion.
  • 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. Because 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.
  • Three types of COVID-19 vaccine development efforts are being undertaken 1) Fully indigenous 2) Collaboration with foreign players, where we are leading 3) Collaboration, where others are leading the development.
  • 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.
  • People often ask when the first COVID-19 vaccine will come, as if all subsequent vaccines will be meaningless. This is such a huge pandemic that there is no meaning in saying who will come 1st/2nd. There is enough room also for those going slow and steady.


Prof. Raghavan said that besides the efforts of scientific organizations, India has adopted unique approach to drug discovery, employing a ‘Hackathon’ for computational drug discovery. He stated:

  • Drugs attack the virus chemically after it enters. This is a very big challenge since a virus uses our body machinery to multiply. So, designing a drug which attacks only the virus, and not our body parts, is a huge challenge.
  • One virus particle can divide and result in thousands of particles in a cell. So a drug has to attack the virus in early stage, otherwise the dose required to kill the thousands becomes too much.
  • Repurposing of drugs and designing of new drugs – two different approaches to drug development are being adopted now. Designing new COVID-19 drugs, like vaccine development, takes a very long time.
  • India has adopted a unique approach to drug discovery. Besides other approaches, CSIR and AICTE have embarked on a very high-end drug discovery hackathon. Students are trained and oriented about the drug discovery process, and are given access to computational tools. The ones which fit are identified and will be taken forward by CSIR and other organizations. While the probability of individual success is low, when tried on a very large scale, the hope is that we have enough chance for some of them to be winners.


The PSA informed that a new type of test is likely to come up.

  • One component of testing is to test for the presence of the viral genetic material (the RT-PCR test falls in this category).
  • A new kind of COVID-19 test is likely to come up, which will test for presence of virus particle. This is not yet available, we in India and elsewhere too are trying to make it.
  • Antibody Tests need to have: 1) a high level of sensitivity – so that the test is able to detect COVID-19 even if level of antibody is very low; 2) a high level of specificity, so that the test detects the virus and not something else.
  • The Antibody test can be used to test individuals, if both sensitivity and specificity are very high. If high but not high enough, it can be used in community surveillance, where it has to be interpreted correctly in the context of the specific community.


Replying to a question on the viral strains which are present in India, the Principal Scientific Advisor said that a change in the genetic sequence need not necessarily bring about a change in the prime activities of the virus, though it helps trace the geographical origin of the virus. “To conclude that change in genetic sequence is responsible for spread of infection, we need more evidence. The spread of infection can be due to many other parameters as well. So far, since January 2020, we have not observed any change in the genetic sequence of SARS-CoV-2 in India or the world, which could have led to a fundamental change in the properties which determine how the virus infects us”.