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View: TCS, Infosys, HCL, Nasscom, do you hear the call of COVID19?

Once genetic sequencing of a problem bug is carried out, arriving at a probable vaccine is as much a computing and data analytics challenge as anything else. Data on past vaccines that have worked against viruses with gene sequences that correspond with bits of the gene sequence of the new threat against which a vaccine is being sought has to be analysed.

, ET Bureau|
Last Updated: Feb 20, 2020, 07.34 PM IST
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India’s own Biotechnology Industry Research Assistance Council (Birac) has put out a Request for Proposal for clinical development of a novel/new/next generation vaccine candidate.
Pune-based Serum Institute of India hopes to deliver a vaccine for the Wuhan virus, COVID19, by 2022. The job of analysing the genetic sequence of COVID19, published on January 12 by Chinese scientists online, less than a week after the initial outbreak, and suggesting various vaccine candidates for Serum Institute to develop was done by Codagenix, an American company. Why is there no Indian company ready to do this?

Once genetic sequencing of a problem bug is carried out, arriving at a probable vaccine is as much a computing and data analytics challenge as anything else. Data on past vaccines that have worked against viruses with gene sequences that correspond with bits of the gene sequence of the new threat against which a vaccine is being sought has to be analysed. And probable candidates identified. These must then be transferred to a more traditional pharma company that can grow these candidates and test them. The world is racing to collaborate on shortening the testing cycle, so as to bring new vaccines to vulnerable areas as soon as possible after a new epidemic breakout, to prevent it from becoming a pandemic.

India’s own Biotechnology Industry Research Assistance Council (Birac) has put out a Request for Proposal for clinical development of a novel/new/next generation vaccine candidate. India is a member of the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations (CEPI), a public private coalition, funded by the Wellcome Trust, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, the World Economic Forum and a few governments such as of Norway, Germany and Japan. CEPI has issued a call for a vaccine candidate for COVID19. GAVI, an international vaccine alliance, funds vaccine research on an ongoing basis. It is present and active in India.

In other words, to obtain funds for a project would not be the toughest job. The main things is to drag our information technology talent from sleepwalking along the well-pounded trail blazed by companies in the West, in e-commerce, aggregating cabs, hotels, buses and service providers and the like, and choose the road less taken. Yes, there are some brave startups working in medical implants, biotechnology and even carbon capture. But these are few and far between.

It would help if India’s IT giants, sitting on piles of cash and a few hundred thousand fat bottoms, were to realise that this is a far more productive area to explore than fretting over H1B visas. Bio-informatics is for information technology types, as much as for biology types. With some imagination and innovation, Indian IT would be able to throw more able-bodied engineers and biologists at emerging virus threats than any other segment of industry anywhere in the world.

Shiv Nadar and Azim Premji, founders of IT companies that made hardware and software, ducked the telecom gear challenge, as that global opportunity arose. Infosys and TCS lag HCL in revenue per employee. All of them struggle to break out of their legacy models of linear growth. Will they hear the call of vaccines? If they do, they would save the world, give India a new high-value line of business, and do themselves a nice little favour. Nasscom boss Keshav Murugesh, do you hear?
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