Why Is Gain Of Function Research Making News Amidst The Pandemic?

Why Is Gain Of Function Research Making News Amidst The Pandemic?

Since the onset of Covid-19 pandemic, the scientific community is debating regarding the transparency of virus research. This is specifically regarding the federally funded research that involves making pathogens more deadly or more transmissible for research purposes. But is it worth it if it can risk the public health in case it escapes the lab environment? How do we make it more ethical? Let’s first understand the basics of Gain of Function research for this.

Crux of the Matter

What Is Gain Of Function?
GoF is a study that involves creation of pathogens with additional functionalities than occur in nature. This could even lead to creation of pathogens that are more transmissible and deadlier.

Why Would We Do That?
It is performed to understand the way in which a pathogen adapts to environmental pressures. This allows disease control measures to be better planned, and potential vaccines to be explored. Also research on bio-weapons and vaccines is carried out in case a malicious entity weaponises such pathogens.

Controversy With GoF
In 2012, a team worked on a paper, Airborne Transmission of Influenza A/H5N1 Virus Between Ferrets for genetically modifying H5V1 virus by creating a strain that was airborne in ferrets. This demonstrated that it was possible for the avian influenza virus to become transmissible in air and that the strain was sensitive to certain antiviral drugs.

Research Stopped
 The possibility of an accidental or intentional malicious release of such a virus caused the US to halt funding for GoF research relating to influenza, SARS, or MERS in 2014.

Research Restarted
In 2017, National Science Advisory Board for Biosecurity concluded that very few such experiments posed a risk to public safety. So the ban was lifted and White House developed an ethical analysis white paper.

What’s In The White Paper

Transparency In Research
In such analysis, expert-panel members are not publicly available, nor are its reviews of study proposals.

We’re not trying to say the policy is wrong, we’re trying to say the policy is ambiguous

Marc Lipsitch, Harvard epidermiologist

Unknown Origins Of Covid-19
There have been theories about Covid-19 causing SARS-CoV-2 emerging as a result of Gain of Function research. That’s because the pandemic started in December 2019 in Wuhan, China, which also houses the Wuhan Institute of Virology, that conducts research on bat coronaviruses. Till date, we don’t know if Covid-19 originated in the wild or in the lab.

Curiopedia
  • The word Pathogenic came into existence in 1852 and the word Pathogen was derived from ‘Pathogenic’ during the 1880s. In Greek, the word Pathogenic means “origin of suffering“.
  • Antonie van Leeuwenhoek invented the first microscope in the 1600s. It was a single lens microscope made with a very small glass ball lens. With the help of that microscope he then rediscovered the red blood cells and Spermatozoa.
  • Fungi’s medicinal significance was discovered in 1928 by Scottish bacteriologist Alexander Fleming. Fungi can also be eaten; for example, certain mushrooms, morels, and truffles are considered epicurean delicacies, and mycoproteins (fungal proteins) obtained from the mycelia of some fungi are used to produce high-protein foods.

How DRDO Is Acting As India’s Defence Against Covid

How DRDO Is Acting As India's Defence Against Covid

DRDO, India’s premier organization for defence research, has a rich history of indigenous innovation in the field. However, amidst Covid pandemic, it has upped its innovations to help citizens against the disease. With its most recent innovation being the anti-Covid drug, let’s look at that and some other contributions.

Crux of the Matter

Recent Drug Approval
DGCI recently gave emergency approval to anti-Covid drug developed by DRDO. The drug was developed in collaboration with:

  • Institute of Nuclear Medicine and Allied Sciences of DRDO.
  • Dr Reddy’s Laboratories (DRL), Hyderabad.

The drug 2-deoxy-D-glucose (2-DG) is to be taken orally after mixing in water.

[The drug] helps in faster recovery of hospitalised patients and reduces supplemental oxygen dependence. Higher proportion of patients treated with 2-DG showed RT-PCR negative conversion in COVID patients.

PIB release

Other DRDO Innovations To Fight Covid
The other innovations, initiatives and measures undertaken by the organisation to help the citizens fight the virus include:

COVSACK (COVID Sample Collection Kiosk)

  • Patient goes inside kiosk.
  • Sample taken from outside with shielding screen and built-in gloves.
  • Completely automatic disinfection.

DRUVS (Defence Research Ultraviolet Sanitiser)

  • Contactless cabinet as working on sensors.
  • 360 degree exposure to objects inside.
  • Useful for sanitising laptops, phones, papers, etc.

Medical Oxygen Plants (MOP)

  • Based on oxygen generation system used in fighter aircraft Tejas.
  • Capacity: 1,000 litres oxygen/minute.
  • Catering to 190 patients at a time.
  • 2 plants set up in Delhi – 500 more expected around the country.

Covid Hospitals

  • Most notably, DRDO has set up several Covid hospitals across country.
  • These beds have oxygen support, while some are kept with ventilators.

Some of the cities where the hospitals are present (along with number of beds) is as follows:

  • Ahmedabad: 900 beds.
  • Delhi: 500 beds.
  • Patna: 500 beds.
  • Lucknow: 500 beds.

Several more such hospitals around the country expected soon.

Curiopedia
  • BrahMos is the fastest supersonic cruise missile in the world. DRDO along with Russia’s NPO Mashinostroyeniya created the ‘BrahMos’ supersonic missiles.
  • Siachen Glacier is the world’s highest battlefield, controlled by the Indian army. It is at a height of 5400 metres above sea level.
  • The motto of DRDO is “Balasya Mulam Vigyanam”. It means “Strength’s Origin is in Knowledge”.

The Case Of Covid-19 Vaccine Patents Waiver

The Case Of Covid-19 Vaccine Patents Waiver

Amidst rising Covid-19 cases and a growing dearth of vaccines, discussions around removing intellectual property rights over vaccine have started again. With US making an official statement that it will waive off the patents for Covid-19 vaccines and treatments, many nations have shown support to the matter raised prominently last year by India and South Africa. There also have been arguments for and against patent waiver. Let’s understand what is happening.

Crux of the Matter

Back Story
In May 2020, the World Health Organization (WHO) in order to share knowledge for rapidly scaling up the vaccine production proposed a Covid–Technology Access Pool. However, the initiative largely failed as vaccine companies refused to participate.

The Proposal
In October 2020, India along with South Africa, at World Trade Organization’s Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPs) council meet, proposed to temporarily suspend the protection of Intellectual Property (IP) rights pertaining to the Covid-19 vaccine and drugs.

Proponents To Relinquish IP Rights
The India-South Africa proposal was roughly backed by over 100 nations.

Fundamental Argument:

  • The patent holders have the exclusive right to manufacture, sell, and use the vaccine/drug for the entire term of 20 years from the date of its filing.
  • IP rights could restrict the supply of vaccines and drugs. Thus, only by suspending the TRIPS agreement a ‘fair, equitable and affordable access’ to Covid-19 products can be ensured.

At present, the annual global vaccine production capacity is 3.5 billion doses. While to vaccinate 70% of the world’s population,11 billion doses are required. A significant increase in production is the need of hour to control Covid 19.

As Reported In WSJ:
Pharmaceutical firms in developing nations like Bangladesh, India, South Africa, and Senegal say that they have the capacity to produce vaccines within a few months if Western manufacturers license or share their technology.

Opposition To Waiver

  • Vaccine makers which are already ramping up production believe that squashing IP will not work to overcome supply shortage in the short term.
  • Reason? Contract producers are not well versed with the new technology.
  • Ugur Sahin, CEO of BioNTech said that it would take a year to master the RNA technology and ensure quality control, with others saying that it would take away resources from existing vaccine production.

What About Bharat Biotech’s Covaxin?

  • Covaxin is indigenously developed by Bharat Biotech in collaboration with Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR) and National Institute of Virology.
  • Covaxin is an Indian Intellectual Property and hence the scope of TRIPs is not applicable if India want to license it to other Indian firms.
  • So far, Indian government has granted the license to Haffkine Bio-Pharmaceutical Corp.
  • However, the firm will take at least a year to get the first Covaxin jab out of its factory owing to the mandatory ‘Biosafety level-3’ production facility required.

In News
On 6th May, 2021 the US finally agreed to temporarily suspend the IP rights. However, the statement released said that US will participate in ‘text based negotiations’ and ‘the entire process might take time’. Experts believe that the process will go on for so long that the emergency is over and there’s no longer a need to share IP.

Curiopedia
  • Jonas Salk was the creator of one of the world’s first successful Polio Vaccines. In order to increase distribution globally, he did not patent or make a profit out of the vaccine.
  • Edward Jenner created the smallpox vaccine, the first ever vaccine. He is often regarded as the Father of Immunology.
  • The term vaccine and vaccination from the words ‘Variolae vaccinae’. It mean ‘smallpox of the cow’.

Vaccine Prince Adar Poonawalla Threatened For Vaccine

A Mumbai-based lawyer, Datta Mane has filed a petition in Bombay High Court seeking Z+ security cover for Adar, CEO of the Serum Institute of India (SII), which manufactures the Covishield vaccine. Let’s see how Adar is being threatened in terms of vaccine supply.

Crux of the Matter
  • Adar Poonawalla, head of Serum Institute of India which is making Covishield vaccine, has moved to London amidst threats to him in India.
  • In an interview with The Times (UK), Poonawalla claimed he is getting calls from several chief ministers, businessmen and other ‘powerful’ people of India.

  • Poonawalla has claimed that he will return to India in a few days. He is also expected to start vaccine production in UK as well.
  • A few days ago, Poonawalla was also given ‘Y’ status security cover by CRPF. The ‘Y’ category security includes 11 personnel, including 1 or 2 commandoes and police personnel.
  • Notable development came when Rahul Kanwal of India Today discussed threats to Poonawalla.

Know Your Drugs For Covid-19

Know Your Drugs For Covid

With so many scientific terms flying around social media platforms, it is hard to remember which medicine is being used to treat which illness. Let’s help you out by listing down the most ‘trendingdrugs and their role in the treatment of the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic.

Crux of the Matter

Disclaimer for Drugs mentioned: The content you read here is not recommended as a substitute for medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment for Covid-19. For actual cases, consult your doctor.

Dexamethasone

  • Type: Steroid
  • General use: Meningitis and Arthritis 
  • Available as: Tablet and Injection
  • Use in COVID:  For severely ill patients who are on supplemental oxygen or ventilatory support. A dose of 6 mg daily for 10 days. 
  • Side effects: Stomach issues

HCQ (Hydroxychloroquine)

  • General Use: Malaria
  • Use in COVID: It is under investigation.
    FDA had revoked it’s emergency use authorization (EUA) on June 15, 2020.
  • Side effects: Serious cardiac events

Remdesivir

  • General Use: Ebola Virus Disease (EVD)
  • Use in COVID: The optimal role remains uncertain. WHO suggests not using it in hospitalized patients as there is no clear evidence that it improves the outcome. National Institutes of Health says to use it in patients requiring supplemental oxygen.
  • Side effects: Kidney and Liver Toxicity, Respiratory Distress (rare but severe)

Azithromycin

  • Type: Antibiotic
  • General Use: Treats Bacterial infections
  • Use in COVID: Treat or prevent respiratory co-infection.
  • Side effects: Constipation; abnormal heart rhythm in some patients

Tamiflu

  • Type: Antiviral
  • General Use: Influenza A and B, Swine Flu
  • Use in COVIDNot effective after NCBI trials 
  • Side effects: Insomnia, Nausea

Tocilizumab

  • General Use: Arthritis in children
  • Use in COVID: It can be given with dexamethasone in recently hospitalized patients who are on high-flow oxygen (within 24 hours).
  • Side effects: Sore Throat, Cold, Bacterial Infections

Ivermectin

  • General Use: Treat Parasite infections like Heartworm
  • Use in COVID:  FDA has not approved it in the US. Recommended as an add-on treatment for patients in India.
  • Side effects: Avoid use for pediatric patients (people <=21 years )

Budesonide

  • Type: Inhaled steroid via inhaler
  • General Use: Asthma and pulmonary diseases
  • Use in COVID: For mild cases, capable of reducing disease progression to severe.
  • Side effects: Headache, Nausea

Curiopedia
  • Cipla was founded by Khwaja Abdul Hamied as ‘The Chemical, Industrial & Pharmaceutical Laboratories’ in 1935 in Mumbai. The name of the company was changed to ‘Cipla Limited’ on 20 July 1984.
  • The Lasker Awards have been awarded annually since 1945 to living persons who have made major contributions to medical science or who have performed public service on behalf of medicine. They are administered by the Lasker Foundation, founded by Albert Lasker. 
  • Jonas Salk was an American virologist and medical researcher who developed one of the first successful polio vaccines.