Dr Amit Sharma, Head, Structural and Computational Biology Group, International Centre for Genetic Engineering and Biotechnology, New Delhi and winner of Infosys Prize 2015 for Life Sciences, talks about his research on pathogenesis of malarial parasite with Sachin Jagdale
Give details of your research work on pathogenesis of malarial parasite for which you have received the Infosys Prize 2015.
Our focus has been to unravel the atomic structures of key malaria parasite proteins that drive or contribute or are critical for pathogenesis. We are exploring new enzyme families which can be targeted by small molecule inhibitors. We have focused on dissecting key structural attributes of parasite proteins with the overall aim of understanding and exploiting them for target and drug discovery. The laboratory has been able to contribute towards the atomic mapping of several key parasitic proteins, which we hope will provide platforms for anti-malarial drug development.
Species of malarial parasites may vary in given area. Is your research applicable to all such species?
Yes, the targets we have discovered are conserved not only in malaria parasite species but also in other infectious agents.
Anti malarial drug resistance has emerged as one of the greatest challenges in malaria control. Does your research provide solution to this problem?
There are a number of anti-malarial drugs already available, mostly due to intense research efforts from many groups worldwide. However, there are growing concerns about development of drug resistance, and hence there is a requirement for constant inflow of new drugs that target novel enzymes or pathways. Our research has been successful in highlighting an enzyme family that we believe gives numerous opportunities for development of novel anti – malarials.
Where does India stand on the global map as far as research on malarial parasite is concerned? Which are the improvement areas for us?
We are at the forefront of highlighting specific protein translation enzymes from malaria parasites as novel targets for discovering new generation of drugs against malaria. We along with several national and international groups have contributed significantly to validate our observations, and now there is indeed even stiff competition on many of the drug targets we had earlier described. Along with India, many other countries are also contributing to malaria research and together international efforts will bear fruit.
Do you have any association with pharma/ biotech company/ companies? If yes give details. If not, how will the involvement of pharma/ biotech companies benefit this research?
We do not currently have an association with any company – perhaps, malaria drug discovery is not considered a profitable enough business.
How long will it take to generate the commercial benefits from your work?
We are not seeking any commercial benefits from our research in malaria. We are happy just to contribute to its understanding and possible elimination in coming time. I think India should consider itself to have arrived at the world stage if it can manage to eliminate malaria from its borders.