To accelerate the process of developing and manufacturing safe and effective COVID-19 vaccines in the country that can be easily accessible and affordable for the public, a 'Mission COVID Suraksha' has been proposed to be set up with a corpus of nearly Rs 3,000 crore, sources said.
Piloted by the Department of Biotechnology, the proposed mission will focus on end-to-end vaccine development from clinical trial stage to regulatory facilitation to manufacturing, sources added.
The aim of the mission is to accelerate the development of at least six vaccine candidates and ensure that they are licensed and introduced in market for emergency use at the earliest, they said.
While there is no official word on the proposed mission as yet, multiple officials confirmed that a proposal has been made. A senior official said this is still in "a proposal stage".
According to the draft proposal, the mission has been proposed to have a timeline of 12-18 months and a budget of approximately Rs 3,000 crore.
The proposed mission will also look to ensure that sufficient volumes are manufactured to meet India's COVID-19 vaccine requirement and to introduce it in public health systems of the Ministry of Health post the approval by the National Technical Advisory Group on Immunisation (NTAGI), to combat further spread of COVID-19 infection.
While several efforts already underway have helped in quickly putting together best groups and for encouraging them to accelerate the COVID-19 vaccine development, it is now imperative that the vaccine development and manufacturing is taken up "in a mission mode and not in a project mode", the draft proposal said.
"Efforts till now for a vaccine development have been fragmented," it noted.
"Therefore, to ensure a steady supply of vaccines in the next 12-15 months, there is a need to establish a mission with an end-to end focus from pre-clinical development through clinical trials, manufacturing and scale-up development of the prioritised vaccine candidates that would consolidate all available and funded resources towards a warpath for accelerated product development," it said.
Accordingly, it is proposed to launch the Indian COVID-19 vaccine development programme - 'Mission COVID Suraksha', it said.
According to the draft, the national mission will work towards bringing to the citizens of the country a safe, efficacious, affordable and accessible COVID vaccine at the earliest with a focus on 'AatmaNirbhar Bharat' and also fulfil the commitment of serving not just the country but the entire globe.
The proposed mission will work on an "aggressive integrated plan of action" for timely availability of resources, facilities and capabilities to avoid delays in development pathway, availability of expertise and technologies required for market entry and meeting the demand, the draft proposal said.
It will also support multiple vaccine candidates in the pipeline to increase the probability of a successful vaccine entering the market, pre-planning to avoid bottlenecks and delays and ensuring safety and efficacy is not compromised during acceleration.
The proposed mission also aims to make available clinical trial sites, immunoassay laboratories, ensure all vaccine candidates being introduced through this programme have preferred characteristics applicable for India.
It also aims to support manufacturing capacity in the country for different vaccine platforms and ensure vaccine deployment and its uptake by the National Immunisation Programme. Besides, it aims to work with indigenous and global candidates to ensure their successful trial and manufacture in the country.
The government has been ramping up efforts to manufacture a vaccine to combat the deadly infection that has so far infected over 31 lakh people and claimed the lives of over 55,000 people in the country.
India has nearly 30 vaccine candidates at different stages of vaccine development for coronavirus.
Currently, the two vaccine candidates indigenously developed by Bharat Biotech in collaboration with ICMR and Zydus Cadila Ltd have moved to the phase-2 of human clinical trials, ICMR Director General Dr Balram Bhargava recently said at a press briefing.
Pune-based Serum Institute of India, which has partnered with AstraZeneca for manufacturing a COVID-19 vaccine candidate developed by the Oxford University, has been permitted for conducting Phase 2 and 3 human clinical trials of the candidate in India. It is likely to start the trials soon.
In collaboration with HDT Biotech Corporation, USA, Gennova Biopharmaceuticals has also developed an mRNA vaccine candidate (HGCO19) and seed funding for it has been proposed by the Department of Biotechnology. The department had said last month that it is likely to enter clinical trials later this year.
The national expert group on vaccine administration for COVID-19 met leading domestic vaccine manufactures including Serum Institute of India, Bharat Biotech and Zydus Cadila last Monday to take inputs about the present stage of various vaccine candidates as well as their expectations from the Centre, the Health ministry had said.