TB drug discovery held up for lack of funds

In focus

An innovative Indian tuberculosis (TB) drug discovery programme has been held up for want of money on the eve of the clinical trial of a new medicine against drug-resistant TB.

Research has been at a standstill since September in the Council of Scientific and Industrial Research's open source drug discovery (OSDD) programme which allows every willing scientist to chip in with their contribution in developing a new medicine against TB, a disease that kills lakhs every year in the country.

Unlike the guarded research in pharmaceutical companies, the crowd-sourced research programme presents a new drug discovery model to the world. The Planning Commission had sanctioned Rs 670 crore for open innovation projects in the 12th Plan, of which Rs 600 crore was earmarked for OSDD. But no money has been released so far since the file is pending with Union Science Minister S Jaipal Reddy since early September – days after the expenditure finance committee of the government accorded the green signal on September 6.

As per government practice, all proposals requiring funding have to be placed before the Cabinet within 60 days of EFC clearance. That deadline passed on November 6, without any movement from the minister's office. Several reminders were ignored, sources told Deccan Herald.

Meanwhile, the researchers have completed all formalities to begin the efficacy trial of a new molecule against the deadly drug-resistant form of TB in a government hospital in south Delhi. The final approval from the Drugs Controller General of India is expected anytime next month.

The second phase trial of the molecule – known as Pa824 – will be the first clinical trial of a TB drug in India by a public funded organisation. The National Institute for Research on Tuberculosis in Chennai had earlier carried out the India leg of a clinical trial for a molecule developed by a multinational firm.

Developed originally by researchers at Ciba-Geigy, the TB drug molecule was given to CSIR for further development and clinical trial by an international non-governmental organisation known as TB Alliance.

CSIR in turn handed over the job to more than 100 youngsters at OSDD who were aided by 7000-plus researchers engaged with the OSDD. But for the last couple of months, researchers from outside the CSIR system have not been paid for their work. Those working in CSIR laboratories are barely managing with funding from other sources.

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