Vaccine development has been identified as a grand challenge for the biotech industry. It is a priority area and is high on the agenda of the government, department of biotechnology secretary Dr MK Bhan told eFE. According to Dr Bhan, some of the vaccines identified for development on priority include those for cholera, diarrhoea, malaria, rabies, meningitis, HIV, tuberculosis, combination vaccines, and a vaccine against cervical cancer. These vaccines would be developed in public-private partnership and would be made available at affordable prices.
These indigenously developed vaccines are expected to be made available at a fraction of the cost of the imported vaccines, which are exorbitant and beyond the reach of the common man.
According to Dr Bhan, the entire phase of vaccine development is a long drawn out process and typically takes 7-8 years. These include basic research, various stages of clinical trials, evaluation, regulatory clearances, to manufacturing of vaccines in partnership with pharma and biotech companies. We are now looking at streamlining the entire process, make it hassle-free, especially in respect to regulatory mechanism.
Going further, Dr Bhan said, We have proposed to set up clinical research groups in partnership with various specialised hospitals. These groups will be involved in clinical trials and we are working with the Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR) in this regard.
These research groups will provide the ideal opportunity for scientists and physicians to work together, he added.
Vaccine development, like drug development, is an exciting area and offers immense opportunities for growth for the domestic biotech companies, Dr Bhan said.
The ministry of science and technology has already proposed to set up a Rs 150 crore drug development fund to boost R&D activities in the country.
This will be a public-private partnership and provide a major thrust to the R&D for indigenous development of biopharmaceutical drugs and vaccines.
According to Dr Bhan, focus on development of appropriate technologies for diagnostics is another priority area. We will be launching 5-6 dedicated programmes to indigenously develop diagnostics for self-use. Export of these simple and cheap diagnostic kits with little equipment, can fetch good revenues for the biotech companies as well, he said.