DST to fund research
projects on neglected diseases
The Department of
Science and Technology (DST) has introduced a scheme to fund end-to-end
clinical trials that gives emphasis to neglected diseases.
Keeping in mind the spiraling cost of clinical trials and the need for
vigorous and accelerated research, the Department of Science and
Technology (DST) has launched a program, which will aim to allot funds
for end-to-end clinical trials to companies and institutions that come
out with a solution for neglected diseases. This initiative is a part
of an overall scheme called the Drugs and Pharmaceutical Research
Programme (DPRP) headed by the ministry of science and technology, with
the aim to accelerate collaborative R&D projects in the drugs
and pharmaceutical industries. Till date, in India, only a handful of
companies (both Indian as well as multi-national companies have taken
up the initiative to come up with promising answers to the concerns
raised by the neglected diseases.
Throwing light on the initiative Dr GJ Samathanam, advisor, technology
transfer, DST said, “India is a country where a number of
tropical diseases are predominantly present. MNCs are reluctant to
undertake initiatives to conduct clinical trails in this field and they
are always eager to come up with molecules for diseases, which can be
applied to any geography. So, Indian companies have to take the
initiative to protect people from tropical diseases.”
Some of the exceptional instances in this regard are the collaboration
between Tata group owned, Advinus Therapuetics and US-based Biotech
Company, Genzyme to enhance the discovery of novel therapies for
malaria and the announcement from Kewal Handa, managing director of
Pfizer about the company’s decision to focus on malaria
clinical trials in India. The DST has kick started the scheme
by identifying four neglected diseases, three of them being
tuberculosis, malaria and kalaazar. However the exact amount of the
funding was not revealed. Dr Samathanam just hinted that
substantial amount would be allotted but he didn’t gave any
“Now two companies have applied for the funds under this
scheme. Ranbaxy, which is conducting clinical trials of malaria (which
is in its advanced stage) and Bharat Serums and Vaccines, which has
applied for kalaazar, a disease which is highly prevalent in the state
like Bihar,” said Dr Samathanam.
The criteria and the process of applying for this scheme are very
simple. After a company submits its proposal, it goes through a peer
committee that will evaluate on how promising the molecule is and most
importantly as to whether it can be applied to the neglected disease
profile of the Indian populace. Project proposals are reviewed in
strict confidence by a specialist and later by an expert committee. The
budget needed for the entire clinical trial phase is then estimated.
Indian companies engaged in drug development jointly with a national
laboratory under the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research
(CSIR), Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR), Indian Council of
Agricultural Research (ICAR), a university or any other academic
department and publicly funded R&D institutions are eligible to
apply for the scheme.
This initiative by DST is a solution to some of the major concerns
confronting the clinical trial industry in India. “The
problem with the clinical trials industry in India is that the
companies or Contract Research Organizations (CROs), unfortunately
target the same diseases and the same human populace for human trials.
In order to tackle the situation DST is joining hands with the industry
to address these sensitive issues confronting the industry,”
Dr GJ Samathanam pointed out.
Apart from this, the DST is actively involved in providing funds for
clinical trials in other fields such as vaccines and diagnostics. This
includes development of preventive and therapeutic third generation
recombinant Hepatitis B vaccine, development of recombinant vaccines
against rabies, development of indigenous ELISA kits based on capsid
antigen capture assay for HIV-1 and HIV-2 and the development of
indigenous and cost-effective CD4 and CD8 count assay for HIV/AIDS.
One of the significant achievements of DST was a peptide-based
anti-cancer drug for the treatment of colorectal cancer by the Dabur
Research Foundation under Phase-III clinical trials. Also, the DST has
roped in 85 industry—academia alliances under Drugs and
Pharmaceutical Research Programme.