The Union Government launched Drug Discovery Hackathon in the presence of Dr Harsh Vardhan, Union Minister for Science and Technology and Ramesh Pokhriyal ‘Nishank’, Union Minister for Human Resource Development. This Drug Discovery Hackathon is a joint initiative of MHRD’s Innovation Cell (MIC), All India Council for Technical Education (AICTE) and Council of Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR) and supported by Centre for Development of Advanced Computing (CDAC), MyGov as well as private players.
Sanjay Dhotre, Minister of State for HRD; Prof Vijay Raghavan, Principal Scientific Advisor; Dr Shekhar Mande, DG CSI; Prof Anil Sahasrabudhe, Chairman, AICTE; Prof B Suresh, President, Pharmacy Council of India (PCI) and Dr Abhay Jere, Chief Innovation Officer, MHRD, were also present during the online launch programme, informed a release from the Ministry of Science and Technology.
This hackathon, a national initiative to support the drug discovery process will see participation from professionals, faculty, researchers and students from varied fields like Computer Science, Chemistry, Pharmacy, Medical Sciences, Basic Sciences and Biotechnology, hopes the Ministry for S&T.
Dr Vardhan said, “We need to establish the culture of computational drug discovery in our country. In this initiative, MHRD’s Innovation cell and AICTE will focus on identifying potential drug molecules through the Hackathon while CSIR will take these identified molecules forward for synthesis and laboratory testing for efficacy, toxicity, sensitivity and specificity.”
Pointing out that drug discovery is a complex, expensive, arduous and time-consuming process, Dr Vardhan said, “While we pursue clinical trials of few repurposed drugs for COVID-19, as they are faster and can quickly be launched, it is also important that we find other suitable repurposed drugs while at the same time continue working on new drug discovery to develop specific drugs against COVID-19”.
He added, “in-silico drug discovery which utilises computational methods such as machine learning (ML), AI and Big Data will help in accelerating this process”.
Pokhriyal said, “MHRD and AICTE have huge experience in organising hackathons but for the first time, we are using the hackathon model for tackling a great scientific challenge. More importantly, this initiative is open for researchers/faculty across the globe as we are keen on attracting international talent to join and support our efforts.”
The HRD Minister of State also appreciated the concept and said, “Our government has kick-started Hackathon culture in this country which is very critical for challenging our youngsters to solve some of the daunting problems faced by our nation.”
Prof Raghavan said, “I wish to thank MHRD, AICTE and CSIR and all our partners for supporting this hackathon which will help India establish a new model for expediting drug discovery process. The Hackathon consists of challenges that are posted as problem statements and, are based on specific drug discovery topics which, are open to the participants to solve. It will have three phases of three months each and the whole exercise is to be completed by April-May 2021. At the end of each phase, successful teams will be rewarded. The ‘lead’ compounds identified at the end of phase 3 will be taken forward for an experimental level at CSIR and other interested organisations.
During the launch function, Dr Jere explained the concept of Drug Discovery Hackathon, while Prof Sahasrabudhe extended all the support from AICTE and appealed all technical institutions to participate in this initiative in big numbers. Dr Mande extended all the required commitment from CSIR’s side for this initiative. He also expressed satisfaction on the quality and variety of problem statements released today.
The methodology of the hackathon
- The Hackathon consists of challenges that are posted as problem statements and, are based on specific drug discovery topics which, are open to the participants to solve. A total of 29 Problem Statements (PS) have been identified.
- MyGov portal is being used and any Indian student can participate.
- Professionals and researchers from anywhere in the world can participate.
- The Hackathon will have three Tracks. Track 1 will primarily deal with drug design for anti-COVID-19 hit/lead generation: this is done using tools such as molecular modelling, pharmacophore optimisation, molecular docking, hit/lead optimisation, etc.
- Track 2will deal with designing/optimising new tools and algorithms which will have an immense impact on expediting the process of in silico drug discovery.
- There is also a third track called “Moon shot“which allows for working on problems which are ‘out of the box’ nature.
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