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TB drug project gets a lease of life ( thehindu)

There is also interest from BRICS countries to commit funds for research, says ICMR chief

Hit by funds crunch since 2014, the Open Source Drug Discovery (OSDD) Project — fronted by the Council of Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR) and conceived as a unique global programme to find new drugs for tuberculosis — has now been subsumed within a new programme to be led by the Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR).

The proposed India TB Research and Development Corporation (ITRDC), announced last month and led by the ICMR, has got a Rs. 20 crore infusion by Tata Trusts and expects to be a Rs. 750-crore enterprise half funded by the government and the rest by international donor agencies and private companies, said officials associated with it.

“We need to have a nimble agency that can sharply work on, say, delivering diagnostic devices, a short course therapy for TB,” Soumya Swaminathan, Director-General, ICMR, told The Hindu. “It has to be independent and needs to be free of some of the bureaucratic control.”

Began in 2008

The OSDD began in 2008 and has over the years identified about 15 potential drug targets, according to the organisation’s lead proponent and former CSIR chief, Samir Brahmachari. “The OSDD has now gone global,” he told The Hindu . “There are about 7 promising drug targets that could be taken up for development.” Mr. Brahmachari is among an international group of scientific advisers to the ITRDC, whose aim is to gather “all major” national and international stakeholders to develop new tools (drug, diagnostics, vaccines) for TB.

“We will take forward some of the leads in the OSDD portfolio and there’s also interest from BRICS countries to commit funds for research,” Dr. Swaminathan added. Though the OSDD garnered a great deal of enthusiasm from a wide range of students and researchers from within and outside the CSIR system, it didn’t get the kind of financial support necessary to conduct experimental trials. It tested a drug combination called PaMZ (PA-824 + moxifloxacin + pyrazinamide) — to cut treatment time by at least a third but the project wasn’t funded after reports that it didn’t work as well as it was expected to.

No patent rights

The stated aim of the OSDD project is that no organisation would have patent rights over a drug that resulted from the project to ensure that resulting drugs were affordable. “That objective still stands and is one of the conditions for anyone using the OSDD database,” Mr. Brahmachari said.

Tuberculosis (TB) kills two Indians every three minutes and more than 1,000 people every day. India has the highest TB burden in the world. The Global Tuberculosis Report 2016 released in October 2016 by the World Health Organisation updated the estimate of incidence — that is, the number of new tuberculosis cases in a year — to 2.8 million in 2015.

Girish Sahni, the incumbent Director-General of the CSIR, said the ICMR’s leadership of the TB programme was a positive step.

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