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Low-cost Indian drug project a hit

Last updated: 10 April, 2010
Kalyan Ray New Delhi, April 10, DHNS 22:06 IST

Baiting the TB bug

A new Indian endeavour on drug development has created a buzz among students worldwide. Many of them have volunteered to join hands with top scientists and large IT corporations for developing the first new drug against TB in four decades.

A new Indian endeavour has created a buzz among students worldwide. ReutersRefampicin, the last anti-TB molecule, was discovered in 1963. While it continues to be a main drug against tuberculosis even now, the emergence of drug-resistant TB necessitated the search for new molecules. But despite being one of the world’s biggest killers, TB is not a priority for pharma giants.

Enter Open-Source Drug Discovery (OSDD). Conceptualised by the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research, it is probably the world’s biggest rational drug development with minimum cost.

Mycobacterium tuberculosis, was one of the first organisms to be sequenced in 1998. It has 3998 genes but the functions of many are not known. A lot of research was carried out on the bug but nobody assimilated all information on a single plane. In the last three months, close to 400 students scoured through thousands of pages to create the world’s biggest database on the bug, using which new molecules can be designed.

“We now know at least one function of all genes and at least one pathway involving these genes. We can now look at specific choke points for developing new drugs,” Vinod Scaria, a scientist at Institute for Genomics and Integrative Biology (IGIB) here told Deccan Herald.

“Drug development so far is a trial and error method that does not provide a holistic handle to look at the bacterium from all sides,” said Samir K Brahmachari, CSIR director general.

IT majors like HP, Sun and Infosys and Nobel-winner Medecine sans Frontieres have been roped in OSDD for developing new molecules “in silico”.

“The first hit has been transferred to an Indian company to find out if it can lead to a drug,” said Zakir Thomas, OSDD project manager.

One molecule is just the beginning. OSDD is set to provide many more because of its rich cache of fresh students – from BTech, MTech, MSc and PhD levels – who are brimming with excitement. They are using new computational tools to explore uncharted territory and getting rewarded in the process. For instance, 120 of the better performers among the 400 were rewarded with a HP laptop at an OSDD meeting here.

“We spotted an enzyme that can prevent the bug to enter human cell,” said J Lakshmanan, a first year PhD student from Anna University, Chennai and one of the laptop winners.

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