Pune: National Centre for Cell Science (NCCS) facilitates the ongoing efforts against COVID-19

NCCS Pune staffs carrying COVID19 samples
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Pune, June 12, 2020: The National Centre for Cell Science (NCCS) in Pune, an autonomous institution of the Department of Biotechnology (DBT), has been actively engaged in various activities to facilitate the ongoing efforts against the COVID-19 outbreak in the country. It is one of the Government laboratories identified to carry out testing for COVID-19, given its expertise in biotechnology research. NCCS confidently donned this responsibility entrusted by the Government, viewing it as an opportunity to serve the nation. This conviction was fueled by the determination and commitment of the NCCS scientists, exceptional cooperation from the technical manpower, and the unconditional support from all other staff members.

Soon after it was approved as a diagnostics facility by the DBT, the Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR) and the Maharashtra State Government, NCCS carefully assessed the challenges ahead and made extensive and speedy preparations. This included a reorganization of some of the research laboratories into a diagnostics centre, procurement of supplies like PPE and kits, formulating and validating a standard operating procedure (SoP), getting technical and scientific staff trained at the National Institute of Virology (ICMR-NIV) for COVID-related biosafety measures and sample testing, registering the facility with the appropriate authorities, and conducting mock testing. NCCS began testing samples for SARS-CoV-2 on 25th April 2020, and with the diligent efforts of its team, tested over 5000 samples from Maharashtra, in under a month and a half.

To further help address the COVID pandemic, NCCS will also leverage its expertise for various research initiatives with due approvals from the patients and the appropriate regulatory authorities. Scientists at NCCS are exploring the generation of neutralizing human monoclonal antibodies against SARS-CoV-2, in partnership with IIT Indore, PredOmix Technologies Pvt. Ltd., Bharat Biotech International Ltd. & AFMC, Pune, with support from CSIR- New India Millennium Indian Technology Leadership Initiative (NMITLI). Other research includes the generation of a recombinant virus from SARS-CoV-2 as a vaccine candidate, to be carried out with financial support from DBT-Biotechnology Industry Research Assistance Council (BIRAC).

Additionally, as a proof of concept, the synthetic peptide-based therapeutics approach is being explored at an experimental level, and another peptide-based approach is being explored for antibody generation. A bio-bank of blood cells and plasma from infected and recovering COVID patients is also being created at NCCS, which will serve as an invaluable resource for future research as well. NCCS will also be involved in sequencing the genome of the virus from clinical samples, as a participant of the collective project of several DBT autonomous institutions.

In addition to engaging in its initiatives, the national cell repository at NCCS has also been facilitating COVID-related research at other organizations by supplying cell cultures, which are necessary for this work. It has supplied fourteen cell cultures to ten organizations across India, including research institutions, a medical college and a private company. Furthermore, NCCS has also provided guidance and assistance to other research organizations, such as IISER-Pune, ARI and CSIR-NCL, to set up COVID testing facilities on their respective campuses.

The timely and much-needed support provided by ICMR-NIV, the Armed Forces Medical College (AFMC), and the BJ Medical College in Pune, and the Directorate of Medical Education and Research, in Mumbai, has been invaluable in successfully initiating and implementing the activities at NCCS. The financial requirements were primarily met through the intramural funds of NCCS from the Government of India and partially supported by Lupin Ltd, and Gennova Biopharmaceuticals Ltd. The Director of NCCS, Dr Manoj Kumar Bhat, has thanked the scientific staff, technical staff and their families for their constant support in NCCS’s contribution towards this national cause.

NCCS Pune COVID Corona