A news report has been doing the rounds on Hindi and other regional language television channels, claiming that the Post Graduate Institute of Medical Education and Research (PGIMER or, in short, PGI), Chandigarh, has developed a vaccine against the novel coronavirus disease 2019 (nCOVID-19 or just COVID), which has been tested on six ‘patients’ who have ‘recovered’ from the ailment.
This is a scientifically outrageous claim. A vaccine is not tested on patients but is administered on healthy subjects whose bodies thereafter develop antibodies to fight against future attacks by the foreign body (virus, bacteria or any other disease-causing biological agent). Anyway, did the PGI “develop” or “discover” such a vaccine? There is no credible report to support the following claim (video).
However, what the PGI is experimenting on is no mean feat. Indians may seek pride also in the fact that the ant-leprosy vaccine that the Council of Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR) is experimenting with was a discovery by an Indian five decades ago.
The PGI has been selected out of three major health institutions in the country to test the impact of the MW vaccine on the novel coronavirus. The institute said in a release that COVID patients have higher cytokine levels, and an immuno-modulator may thus be of potential benefit in managing them.
As of now, 50 institutions from across the world are in the race to hit upon the vaccine that would develop in human beings resistance to COVID-19.
A heat-killed Mycobacterium W (MW), originally developed as an immunomodulator for leprosy, reduces cytokine storms seen in COVID patients. In a prospective randomised trial, PGI-Chandigarh — along with All India Institute of Medical Sciences, Delhi and Bhopal — is conducting this study in hospitalised subjects who volunteered for the experiment.
Medically useful microbes discovered half a century ago by an Indian biologist have made a comeback in the fight against coronaviruses in India as the Council of Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR) also is preparing to begin three clinical trials with the drug inactive form of bacteria is.
Three distinct CSIR trials with the formula PGI is using
The first trial will be conducted on 50 critically ill COVID-19 subjects to test whether the intravenous drug Sepsivac — used against sepsis or blood poisoning — can reduce mortality. While a vaccine is administered on healthy individuals whose bodies develop antibodies to fight the attack, when administered as a drug to existing patients, the result can determine the compound’s efficacy as a vaccine too.
The second trial will be on about 500 asymptomatic individuals, who may have come in close contact with COVID-19 patients and healthcare workers. The idea here is to boost their innate immunity and thereby prevent them from acquiring the disease.
The third trial will be conducted again on a large number of hospitalised COVID-19 patients who are not seriously ill. The principle behind this experiment is to see if the drug can heal the patients quickly and prevent the disease from growing more severely, requiring ICU management.
Ram Vishwakarma, the director of CSIR-Indian Institute of Integrative Medicine, Jammu, and coordinator of COVID-19 activities at CSIR, said, “We have received approval from the Drug Controller General of India for three trials. The first one will start soon and initial results may come in 35-40 days. Based on the results, we will make a call on the other two tests.”
The anti-leprosy bacterium’s utility was an Indian discovery
MW, later renamed as Mycobacterium indicus pranii (MIP) after its explorer Dr Gursaran Pran Talwar, the great man of Indian biology who founded the National Institute of Immunology in Delhi, is at the core of the drug.
Looking for a vaccine against leprosy, Talwar and his students had looked at MW in the 1970s and extensively studied the germ that was successfully used as a vaccine against leprosy. Due to its many unique properties, other researchers found its utility in the therapy against TB and some form of cancer several years down the line.
Indigenous medicine was developed more than a decade ago in a public-private partnership and the technology was transferred to Cadila, the flagship for commercial manufacturing. The company will now be part of the trial in AIIMS, Delhi and Bhopal as well as PGI Chandigarh.
How it fights viruses
“MW enhances the body’s immunity to fight against external agents such as bacteria. For gram-negative sepsis, it reduces mortality by 50%. We want to see if it works against COVID-19. Does. AIIMS Bhopal to complete this process,” CSIR Director-General Shekhar Mande said.
Most people infected with COVID-19 or other viruses either do not get the disease or acquire a virulent form of the disease due to adequate innate immunity. The reconstituted drug is tested with the aim of improving the internal immunity of infected individuals so that they can better fight the epidemic.