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By facilitating whole-genome sequencing we can help in taking swift treatment decisions

Redcliffe Life Sciences is keen to work with the ICMR and NIV to understand various strains of the COVID-19 virus and its patterns. informs Ashish Kumar, Dubey, COO & Co-Founder, Redcliffe Life Sciences as he talks about how whole genome sequencing can help in predicting the response of drugs on each such viral strain, with Usha Sharma

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Tell us about Redcliffe Lifesciences’ ongoing activities and its work towards tackling COVID-19 pandemic.
Redcliffe was an initial investor in Mylab in 2017 when it was a company unknown outside Pune. The company made an investment of Rs 65 lakh in Mylab to help them with the automation of tests in a pooled capacity. It is this automation which has now proven to be a most useful technology for diagnosis of COVID-19. Redcliffe Life Sciences also filed two BIRAC proposals for in silico testing of existing drugs. It was successful on SARS-COV1 and new peptides, which is highly promising.

Redcliffe Lifesciences works with a number of reputed research institutes, public and private hospitals such as SGPGI Lucknow, PGIMER Chandigarh, Kamineni Hospital Hyderabad, AFMC Pune, AIIMS New Delhi, RMRI Patna, SMVDU Jammu etc. for genomics-based services in the field of cardiovascular, neurology, psychiatry, reproductive biology and rare disease etc.

Tell us more about the proposal you have submitted to the Ministry of Health, Government of India and the Indian Council for Medical Research (ICMR)?
We recently submitted a proposal to conduct COVID-19 genome sequencing, which would be highly beneficial in routine surveillance and planning further strategies related to the outbreak response. Under the proposal, we have suggested sequencing of around 100 samples as POC (self-funded). This will establish a case to use next-generation sequencing technology as a diagnostic tool. The larger goal for us is to carry out whole genome sequencing of about 1000 to 5000 samples through our in-house capabilities. We have the most advanced sequencing technologies available in India and propose to carry out the sequencing at a cost of Rs 6000 per genome (either as research or diagnostic tool).

How will it be a game-changer in tackling COVID-19?

Whole Genome Sequencing (WGS) can help in the evaluation of the available information from a scientific perspective. We can work in collaboration with ICMR and NIV to help understand the various strains of COVID-19 if any are found in the Indian public. It will also give us an understanding of the spread patterns of different viral strains in various geographical regions. Accordingly, it will be possible to predict the response of drugs on each such viral strain. By facilitating WGS, we can help in taking swift treatment decisions. This would indeed be a game-changer as timely action would be helpful in curbing the spread of the virus and identifying the most effective procedures of medication.

Further, our assay approach can target the entire coronavirus genome and has the capability to cover over 99 per cent of the viral genome and its mutations. Our proprietary computational pipeline can automatically analyse the sequences and help in identification of various viral strains as per the basis of patient samples.

Have you started working on genome sequencing for COVID-19?
We have not yet started working on genome sequencing for Covid-19.

What are the challenges you see in genome sequencing for COVID-19?
For scientists dealing with any major pandemic outbreak, the biggest challenge is to predict the pattern of evolution and the spread of disease. It becomes even more difficult when we come across RNA viruses like the COVID-19. These viruses have an extremely high genetic variability which makes it difficult to understand their transmission pattern and finding the number of active viral strains as well as the geographic locations where they are present. Further, it can lead to a patient being infected with multiple strains. This not only makes the treatment more difficult but can also lead to a variable response to the same which can make it difficult for doctors to take the right decisions quickly.

How will genome sequencing help in the creation of therapies and vaccines for coronavirus?
WGS is helpful in scientifically analysing the available data on COVID-19. By working with ICMR and NIV, we can develop an understanding of the various strains of the virus and also the different patterns of spread across various geographical regions. Further, we will be able to predict the response of different drugs on each such viral strain. Once, we understand how the virus works and what medication is most effective for it, we would be able to use genome sequencing to assist in creating therapies and vaccines for COVID-19.

How will your technology help the government to tackle the COVID-19 pandemic? Will this be on a PPP model?
As stated, WGS will not only help us get an in-depth understanding of the pandemic but also in the identification and study of various viral strains, if found in the Indian public. We can use this knowledge to determine the best possible therapies for each of these strains, which might further lead to the development of an effective COVID-19 vaccine soon. We are working with a number of health institutions in India such as the SGPGI, Lucknow to conduct COVID-19 testing in the country.

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