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Pune scientists advance but vaccine months away

Pune scientists make advancements
Doctors screen a patient in an isolated area set aside for possible COVID-19 patients at a government hospital in New Delhi on Thursday.

G.S. Mudur   |   New Delhi   |   Published 12.03.20, 09:29 PM

Indian scientists have isolated 11 specimens of the novel coronavirus from infected patients in the country and hope to use them to design a vaccine. But even with expedited clinical trials, a home-grown vaccine won’t be ready in 18 to 24 months.

The scientists at the National Institute of Virology, Pune, have 11 coronavirus isolates and have sequenced the genomes of 10, Raman R. Gangakhedkar, a senior scientist with the Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR), said on Thursday.

“Coronavirus isolation is difficult, but we have 11 isolates. The virus could be used to design a candidate vaccine,” Gangakhedkar said. The isolation of the virus from patients in India also paves the way for research to understand the evolution of the virus in the country and its genetic affinity with coronavirus isolates from other countries, he said.

Scientists in China, Brazil and France, among other places, have already isolated the coronavirus.

At present, doctors have no approved anti-viral treatment or vaccine against the coronavirus.

“We hope to use the isolates to understand how the virus evolves over time and study its rate of mutations,” Gangakhedkar said.

He said the isolated viruses — three of which come from the earliest three patients in Kerala — could be used to design a vaccine, but a home-grown vaccine should not be expected soon.

“Even with expedited clinical trials and regulatory approvals, it could take 18 to 24 months,” Gangakhedkar said. The vaccine-design process is tough and the candidate vaccine will need to passtrials.

First death in India

On Thursday night, the first death of a coronavirus patient in India was confirmed.

The Karnataka government said a 76-year-old man who had died on Tuesday after recent travel Saudi Arabia has been confirmed as infected with the coronavirus. 


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