Shagufta Quazi, B.Sc. Biotechnology, 3rd year, Adamas University
The World Health Organization (WHO) on March 11, 2020, has declared the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak a global pandemic. The International Committee on Taxonomy of Viruses (ICTV) named the virus causing the disease as “Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome Coronavirus 2” (SARS-Cov-2). The disease has rapidly spread in 213 countries, infecting more than 2.4 million people and more than 163 thousand people have succumbed to the disease as per WHO data received on 22nd April 2020. In the absence of an effective vaccine, tough decision to lockdown cities and countries for ensuring social distancing is the most effective way to contain the disease in the current scenario. However, this has brought the whole world to a standstill condition. While many sectors are struggling, the Biotech sector remains immune to the economic conditions and leading the fight against COVID-19. The global pandemic has prioritized the need to invest in the field of disease diagnosis and treatment.
Current Indian scenario: A need to thrust R&D in biotechnology
Research is an important part of all pandemics, in which the department of biotechnology will stay as a nodal bureau for vaccine development and the researchers will concentrate on determining the pathway of vaccine development. The Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR) has already allowed for the clinical trial of convalescent plasma (antibody-rich plasma from the human who has recovered from coronavirus) in treating patients of COVID-19.
This is a good opportunity for biotechnologists to find a significant solution to fight against this crisis. After an evaluation done by the Indian Council of Medical Research, Mylab Discovery Solution was the first company to acquire commercial commendation for a rapid test kit for the COVID-19 test from the Central Drugs Standard Control Organization (CDSCO). This creates an opportunity for startups and private sectors to establish them in this sector and serve humankind.
There is a huge demand for test kits for diagnosing COVID-19, also, the disease, if not contained, may further spread at a substantial pace. The government is focusing on developing vaccines against SARS-Cov-2. In this crisis, Government, as well as the private sector, should contribute to rapid tests to fight against the COVID-19 pandemic. Biocon Ltd. is willingly setting up a testing facility for the COVID-19 test and there is a need for more diagnostic centers to manage situations in case of a huge rush. Therefore, there is an opportunity for biotechnologists to go ahead in this sector.
The Post COVID-Era: Necessity and Opportunity for Biotech Sector
On the impact of COVID-19, Kiran Majumder Shaw, the biotechnology icon, believes that it is both an opportunity and necessity for the biotechnology sector to start seriously looking at these kinds of viral diseases.
The current situation warrants the importance of being prepared beforehand for any unforeseen epidemics and pandemics like this. As compared to other western countries, the Indian public health system does not even mandate a flu-shot every year, which is very important in this era of globalization. Future health policies need to emphasize more on prevention than cure.
Communicable diseases, once believed to the disease of third world countries are not true anymore because of travel and migration. “ This is an opportunity to strengthen the India biotech sector and make sure that you start researching on all these communicable diseases as well”, says Kiran Majumder Shaw. We predict that the following factors are further going to catalyze the growth in the Biotech sector.
- The growing concern about personal health and hygiene
- Production and R&D drive which will certainly increase the demand for reagents, media, and sera.
- Growing environmental concerns and related regulations will require more testing reagents
- Increasing stringency in food safety and regulations demand more kits and reagents for testing pesticide residues and other parameters
- Growing incidence of lifestyle diseases inflate the demand for diagnostics
- Success stories of personalized medicine or precision medicine widen the market scope
A pandemic situation can curtail the supply chain system especially when there is more reliance on other countries. India is trying to be more self-dependent and develop better indigenous techniques. India is a young country full of skilled resources and the “Make in India Campaign” may further provide a great opportunity for Biotech entrepreneurs and the biotech industry at large.
A career in biotechnology seems to be very promising and a biotechnologist not only satisfies his goals of research and innovation but serves the country and above all humanity.
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