IIT Delhi to give non-exclusive open license to companies developing COVID-19 tests

The method to detect COVID-19 which will significantly reduce the cost of testing, making it affordable for a large population in the country, developed by the institute got the ICMR nod last week
IIT Delhi
IIT Delhi

The Indian Institute of Technology (IIT), Delhi, which has become the first academic institute to develop a COVID-19 testing method, is planning to give non-exclusive open licence to companies for commercialising the test but with a price rider. While over 40 companies have reached out to the premiere institute after it got an approval from the ICMR for the test, IIT will be giving the licence to the companies which meet its quality criteria and the test is expected to be in market within three weeks.

"Over 40 companies, including a few big names, have reached out to us to commercialise the test. We will be giving open licences to companies which meet the quality criterion set by us. We also will be giving the licence with a price rider so companies do not hike the price once commercialised. The test is expected to be in the market within three weeks," IIT Delhi Director V Ramgopal Rao said.

"We have sent out questionnaires to the companies who have sent expressions of interest. We have set criterion, including quality checks and experience in manufacturing. We will select the companies soon and there will be handholding by the institute. So far we have identified three of them," he added. Elaborating on the price rider, Rao said the test will cost less than Rs 500. "The test method involves a cost of Rs 200-300 per test. So overall, the test should not be more than Rs 500. If some company decides to do the production as a CSR initiative, the price could even be lesser than that," he said.

The method to detect COVID-19 which will significantly reduce the cost of testing, making it affordable for a large population in the country, developed by the institute got the ICMR nod last week. IIT Delhi is the first academic institute to have obtained the ICMR approval for a real-time PCR-based diagnostic assay. The development also comes against the backdrop of the Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR) halting the testing for COVID-19 cases through China-made test kits because of massive variation in test results, compounding the challenge to check and contain the pandemic.

According to the team, the current testing methods available are "probe-based" while the one developed by the IIT team is a "probe-free" method, which reduces the testing cost without compromising on accuracy. Using comparative sequence analyses, the IITD team identified unique regions (short stretches of RNA sequences) in the COVID-19 and SARS COV-2 genome. RNA or Ribonucleic Acid is one of the major biological macromolecules that is essential for all known forms of life.

It performs various important biological roles related to protein synthesis such as transcription, decoding, regulation and expression of genes. "Using comparative sequence analysis, we have identified unique regions in COVID-19. These unique regions are not present in other human coronaviruses providing an opportunity to specifically detect COVID-19," Professor Vivekanandan Perumal, lead member of the team had said.

"Primer sets, targeting unique regions in the spike protein of COVID-19, were designed and tested using real time polymerase chain reaction. The primers designed by the group specifically bind to regions conserved in over 200 fully sequenced COVID-19 genomes. The sensitivity of this in-house assay is comparable to that of commercially available kits," he added.

The research team includes PhD scholars Prashant Pradhan, Ashutosh Pandey and Praveen Tripathi, post-doctoral fellows Dr Parul Gupta and Dr Akhilesh Mishra and professors Vivekanandan Perumal, Manoj B Menon, James Gomes and Bishwajit Kundu.

According to Union Health Ministry, the death toll due to the novel coronavirus pandemic rose to 1,147 with 72 more fatalities and the number of cases climbed to 35,043 in the country on Friday. The active COVID-19 cases stood at 25,007, while 8,888 people have recovered, and one patient has migrated. The total number of 35,043 cases includes 111 foreign nationals, according to ministry data updated in the morning.

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