DRDO's incentives: A beacon of light in the Covid crisis

Democracy May 18, 2021

In this harsh time when the whole country is going through the 2nd wave of COVID-19 pandemic, and our whole healthcare system is battling this rapidly spreading outbreak. India's premiere Defence Research Institution i.e. Defence Research and Development Organization (DRDO) has come forward to help the country in these languishing times with it's various research based innovative incentives and of that the most recent being the anti-covid drug approved by Drugs Controller General of India (DCGI). Approval was given to the emergency use of therapeutic application of the drug.

2-Deoxy-D-glucose(2-DG) to serve the severe to moderate level COVID-19 patients who are already admitted and undergoing treatment in hospital. This anti-covid therapeutic application of 2-DG drug has been developed by Institute of Nuclear Medicine and Allied Science (INMAS) which is a leading laboratory of DRDO in collaboration with DR. Reddy's Laboratories (DRL) located in Hyderabad. Unlike vaccines or injections, this drug comes in powder form in a sachet & is taken orally by dissolving it in water thus making it easy to consume.

This drug accumulates in the virus-infected cells and prevents virus growth by stopping viral synthesis and energy production. Its selective accumulation in virally infected cells makes this drug unique in working. In the ongoing second COVID-19 wave, a large number of patients are facing severe oxygen dependency and need hospitalisation.Clinical trials of the drug 2-deoxy-D-glucose (2-DG) showed that it helps in faster recovery of already hospitalised patients and reduces supplemental oxygen dependence and thus easing up the conditions upto certain extent for medical staff for proper supervision and treatment of patients.

The drug is expected to save precious lives due to the mechanism of operation of the drug in infected cells. This will eventually reduce the hospital stay of COVID-19 patients.

This drug is a generic molecule and analogue of glucose, it can be easily produced and made available in maximum parts of our country.

Was this drug approved ?

DCGI before giving approval to the drug checked it & took analysis from 3 phases. After the pandemic began in last year INMAS-DRDO sent conducting laboratory experiments with help of center & molecular biology laboratory Hyderabad and found this molecule works effectively against SARS-COV-2 virus and inhibits it's vital growth. (Phase 1)

Based on the result a permission was granted for phase-2 trials as well & in COVID patients in May 2020. In this phase as well the drug proved its mettle with a very high efficacy rate, the patients treated with 2-DG showed faster symptomatic cure than the standard of care (SoC) on various endpoints.

The further phase-3 clinical trials were also approved & was conducted on 220 patients between December 2020 to March 2021 in 27 COVID hospitals across various states of India. A detailed data of Phase-3 clinical trial was presented to DGCI & since the results were favourable & indicating early relief from Oxygen therapy dependence and thus drug got approved.

But questions still keep on arising on this drug and it's side effects?

Certain points that raise eyebrows include lack of published data on its performance in human trials & drugs history of being an unapproved anti-cancer drug and therefore potentially able to harm healthy human body cells -- is the question that still persists ?

Cancer cells depend heavily on glucose for their survival and hence by tagging them with 2DG we can restrict cancer cell growth and it can also affect high glucose utilising normal cells like brain cells (neurons) and could cause brain related side effects

Thus, the safety profile of this drug is still questionable ?

But DRDO and Hyderabad based research Institute are working in consensus and soon we might get to know good news about this issue being rectified and this question about drugs will be sorted out soon by various researchers.

Along with this, DRDO has invented COVSACK which is a Covid sample collection kiosk for health professionals to collect samples without the need of PPE kits. They also developed DRUVS (Defence research ultraviolet sanitiser) which provides a 360 degree exposure to objects inside and sanitises it.

This article has been written by Kartik Bajare for The Paradigm

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