Covid-19 pandemic has demonstrated importance of diagnostics and R&D in fighting pandemics: Country Speaker & Head of Research Solutions Commercial, Merck

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Updated: Mar 01, 2021 2:49 PM

In the Budget 2021-22 the govt of India has given more focus on health sector as the Covid-19 pandemic is not over. Manufacturing and distribution of vaccines continues to be a key priority in 2021.

sunil punjabiSunil Punjabi, Country Speaker & Head of Research Solutions Commercial, Merck

In the Budget 2021-22 the govt of India has given more focus on health sector as the Covid-19 pandemic is not over. Manufacturing and distribution of vaccines continues to be a key priority in 2021. Infectious disease research and early-stage disease management are critical areas, as well as skill development, adoption of state-of-the-art technology for both research and scale up manufacturing. Skill development that aids innovations in pharmaceutical research and manufacturing are important focus areas. With the rapidly growing biopharmaceutical industry in India and demand for new therapies, researchers can benefit from international expertise to enhance their scientific competency and develop advanced technologies to accelerate development and production of new therapies. In conversation with Financial Express Online, Sunil Punjabi, Country Speaker & Head of Research Solutions Commercial, Merck shared his view on recent budget and India’s healthcare situation. Excerpts:

What assistance is required from the government to prepare India for future infectious outbreaks?

The Covid-19 pandemic has demonstrated the important role that diagnostics and vaccine development will have to fight pandemics in the future. It is important that we employ as many approaches as possible in identifying a virus, as well as in the development of a vaccine or treatment. Diagnostic tests play a critical role here. These tests help physicians determine the presence or absence of a disease in patients, and their findings are used in making treatment decisions. It is key that vaccine developers have an eye on the planning for large-scale production of the new therapies. In a pandemic situation there is the need for an unprecedented number of doses to quickly serve a global population. While Merck does not produce vaccines, our more than 40 years’ experience collaborating with our customers has developed deep bench strength and expertise in manufacturing, which is being leveraged during this critical time.

What does the future hold for innovations that can improve global health?

The future will be about delivering customised therapies for non-communicable diseases and well as attaining precision in infectious disease management and vaccine manufacturing. Research and development will play a significant role in developing such capabilities in the country.

What are the efficiencies and benefits that Merck’s technology can usher into pharma manufacturing?

We support our customers working on Covid-19 projects through our products and services, which enable more than 35 testing solutions across RT-PCR, antigen and antibody diagnostics for both high-throughput centralized and distributed point-of-care settings; more than 50 different vaccine candidates, consisting of several platforms that include DNA, Inactivated, Live Attenuated Virus, Viral Vector, Protein Subunit and mRNA and more than 20 monoclonal antibody, plasma products and antivirals.

Leveraging our digital technologies, Merck supports customers in advancing research and biologics testing to manufacturing, ultimately improving the time to market for vaccine as well as therapeutics development and manufacturing. Our Synthia™ software searches possible pathways for target molecules to accelerate drug discovery by researchers. Our LANEXO™ System helps diminish labour intensive data management in the lab and increase scientific productivity and compliance. By offering flexibility in vaccine production and diagnostic manufacturing we support in reduction of inventory and costs.

How is Merck contributing to the progress of the pharmaceutical industry in India?

Throughout our partnerships with the global scientific community and the leading contributors to solutions in India, we are helping bring to life the treatments and therapies that will address the health challenges we face today. With our network of global technical experts, we stand ready to help Indian researchers and pharmaceutical companies in accelerating the research, testing, process development, scaling to implementation of vaccine/treatment production.

What is the latest R&D happening in Merck?

Merck is research-driven and innovation focused. Last year, Merck invested € 2.1 billion in research and development that supported our innovation. The Life Science business of Merck has more than 2,000 R&D employees, and the business last year launched more than 18,500 products designed to meet our customers’ most unmet needs, from antibodies to water purification systems.

One recent investment is our acquisition of AmpTec, an mRNA contract development and manufacturing organization. That deal builds on our extensive expertise in lipids manufacturing and gives us new capabilities to develop and manufacture mRNA for our customers to use in vaccines, treatment and diagnostics applicable to Covid-19 and many other diseases.

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