Biotechnologists & COVID19 Pandemic – Role of the Biotech Industry
The highly contagious coronavirus (now termed as COVID 19) outbreak started in Chinese city Wuhan. It has then spread throughout the world affecting several countries and endangered millions of lives. Coronavirus (COVID 19) mainly causes respiratory tract infections like SARS (Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome) and MERS (Middle East Respiratory Syndrome).
The World Health Organization (WHO) named this virus COVID-19 as the official name for infection caused by this novel coronavirus.
The name was suggested based on letters from the words “co” for corona, “vi” for virus and “d” for disease, and 19-because the outbreak first started in china in 2019 in the month of November.
The symptoms for COVID-19 infection include mild fever, cold, dry cough, and shortness of breath. The Effects and symptoms of coronavirus infection in children and healthy young adults are generally mild, but its effects can be severe, sometimes even life-threatening to elderly people and to people or patients with weakened immune systems. According to the US Centers for Diseases Control (CDC), older adults and people who have underlying medical conditions, especially heart or Lung disease, Cancer, or diabetes, are at higher risk of developing complications from COVID-19. As the world Health Organization officially declared the outbreak as a pandemic, different countries around the world are trying and implementing different measures to slow down the spread and save millions of lives.
Currently, there are no specific vaccines or proper treatment procedures available for COVID 19. Doctors and healthcare professionals around the world are trying different types of drugs available in the market, which have proven effective in the treatment of similar respiratory illnesses, and they are hoping it will work in case of COVID 19 infection as well. These medicines have also been effective in the treatment in some patients and have helped them to recover. But unless there is some proof or clinical trial study establishing its effectiveness and fewer or no side effects, these drugs cannot be recommended officially for treating COVID 19 patients.
So, at present, the one and the only way to stop the spread and save mankind from mutated COVID 19 are Quarantine for unaffected individuals and isolation of infected individuals.
In the current situation, Quarantine, self-isolation of people showing symptoms or suspected to have the infection( during the initial stages of infections an individual can remain asymptomatic), self-isolation of Healthy individuals and social distancing, complete lockdown are the best applicable measures, these are getting adopted widely across different countries by their governments. It has also proven effective in order to reduce the spread of the disease to some extent.
But the question is how long can the countries be put under lockdown?
At this time point, lockdowns due to the COVID 19 pandemic are heavily disrupting the global supply chain and international trade. More than 100 countries have already closed their national borders, in order to stop the movement of peoples. Millions of workers and daily wage earners not only in India but also in other countries are facing hard times due to losing their jobs. All businesses, the majority of factories, transportation, travel, and tourism are badly affected due to this global lockdown, businesses are incurring loss and it hugely affected the global economy.
Unless a vaccine is developed soon and must be produced in a giant amount to meet the current requirements, these severe disruptions in all kinds of services will lead to another grave situation. There will soon be a shortage of food and other daily essentials, shortage of medicines and other lifesaving drugs. The lockdown cannot be continued in this manner for an indefinite period.
How important a role does the Biotech industry or a Biotechnologist professional can play in this situation? – Biotechnologists & COVID19 Pandemic.
Our only savior now is Science and its application by the Biotech industry.
The Corona pandemic has really unveiled the true importance of the Biotechnologists. We all are hoping that very soon they will come up with something that will put an end to this global suffering.
The biotech industry is also hit due to the shortage of supply, supply chain disruption, transportation issues, and many other problems. But on the other hand, this pandemic has opened lots of scope and opportunities for this industry.
How and what are those opportunities?
Though the origin of COVID 19 was China, now almost every country across the world has reported infection cases and death incidents due to Corona infection. As a result, demand for the vaccine, drugs and other medical products is rising day by day in an exponential pattern. This global demand could be a potential factor that can cause the growth of the biotech industry to a significant level.
The biotech industry, including pharmaceutical companies, research organizations are already being abetted by governments of different countries across the world to develop vaccines and targeted drug therapies to combat against the novel virus.
Rising demand for development of front-line medicines, vaccines, diagnostic equipment, test kits for diagnosis, and treatment of novel corona has created opportunities for tremendous growth for the pharma industry. Demands for medical equipment such as ventilators and other life-supporting devices, protective gear for doctors, medical and supportive staff, for nurses are also rising, as the spread continues exponentially. Lots of companies have started working towards the development of vaccines. Some anti-malaria drugs like Chloroquine, Hydroxychloroquine, and paracetamol are also in high demand. Chloroquine and Hydroxychloroquine, a combination of already approved drugs, is being used to treat COVID 19 infected patients because these drugs are considered as safe for treatment. New clinical trials are taking place, a very recent trial conducted in France reported that treatment with hydroxychloroquine and chloroquine helped the patients for a speedy recovery.
The World Health Organization (WHO) is also sponsoring a large number of clinical trials named SOLIDARITY, in order to study six different drugs that could be potentially used to treat the patients against COVID 19 infection. Patients suffering from COVID-19 infection are more susceptible to other opportunistic secondary bacterial and fungal infections, for this purpose antibiotics are currently used for treating these infected patients who are developing weaker immune systems. According to the report, most of the Chinese hospitals also used broad-spectrum antibiotics to treat their patients with corona infection.
Researchers are now encouraged to participate in research work/ study of coronavirus and related virology fields. A huge scope of research and development opportunities are rising.
Some cases are also reported that recovered patients with COVID 19 infection are also getting infected for the second time. So, vaccination can be the most applicable way in order to stop this pandemic.
With rising numbers of COVID infection cases day by day, the development and production of rapid testing kits are also in high demand. In this situation, the epicenter of the fight against this global pandemic challenge is the healthcare sector.
COVID 19 pandemic has unveiled the importance of a biotechnologist and their industry, it has also proven itself as a big challenge for the medical device sector. Scientists and researchers from the Biotech industry are working in collaboration with the IT sector to develop smart, rapid testing kits. Startups are also getting a major opportunity in the development/ production of such rapid testing kits in huge numbers.
Fighting against any pandemic situation requires a huge number of doctors, nurses, paramedical staff. These front-line soldiers who are working against COVID 19, and the Biotechnologist professionals those who are continuously working in laboratories to develop vaccines, need to be protected before working. This pandemic thus exposed the global shortage of Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) like face shield, head covers, gowns, goggles, gloves, mask, etc. PPE is most important for the prevention of transmission of highly contagious viruses, especially in treatment centers like hospitals, research laboratories. To solve this global crisis biotech and pharmaceutical industry must play a major role. They also need support from the government.
Government and other authorizing bodies also need to understand the importance of these industries, the importance of Researchers, scientists, Biotechnologists, their requirements, problems, and challenges as these professionals including the doctors, nurses are taking the life risk in order to serve for mankind.
How Governments are helping the Biotech industry now?
Governments have also come to understand the importance and how crucial it is to support the biotech sector right now when it is the only sector that can provide the resources to fight the evil.
For example, the British government has set up a task force to help drugmaker AstraZeneca in developing COVID -19 vaccine. Representatives from industry, academia, and government are joining hands to support the mission. The government is also providing support to the industry and research institutions with resources to help in rapid development, reviewing regulations, and scaling up of manufacturing processes as soon as a remedy will be available.
The Government of India announced a complete lockdown on 25th March, for a period of 21 days, invoking disaster management act 2015, which has been extended thereafter. Experts believe the lockdown and enforcement of social distancing have helped to slow down the number of COVID 19 positive cases to well within limits. With the slowdown in trade disrupting the supply chain for essential commodities like testing kits, masks, hand sanitizer, personal protective equipment (PPEs), dress materials for health workers, and ventilators for patients. This situation has prompted our government to activate the ‘make in India’ program and involved various research and development institutions of the country.
The Ministry of Health, Science, and Technology created a common platform for scientific workers in the country. The scientific community could share knowledge, best practices, collaborate, and work on the development of need-based innovation, cutting down duplicate researcher works. This helped numerous researchers in the country to work in developing new rapid testing kits, PPEs, masks, respiratory devices, etc., in a short period of time. Multiple startup companies are also playing a major role by manufacturing low-cost rapid test kits, masks, hand sanitizers, etc.
According to India’s Biotech Queen Kiran Mazumdar Shaw- “This is an opportunity to really strengthen the India biotech sector. Pandemic reveals that it is very important that we get into vaccine production in a bigger way and we need a lot of studies, research on viruses”,
Have we, the common people, understood the importance of Biotechnology?
Some of us do not try to understand the importance of vaccines. We really hope the current situation will be a proper eye-opener for them. Only Science can save mankind from the corona pandemic, COVID 19 pandemic thus clearly giving warning, because according to scientists far more deadly disease-causing viruses are also existing in nature. To prevent further outbreaks- pollution, Global warming, deforestation, destruction of natural ecosystems should come to an end. For the believers of science, this pandemic should reinforce their faith in science.
With the amount of focus, the biotech industry is getting right now, their works getting noticed, it’s impact being felt by all of us, the acknowledgment and appreciation it is getting, now it looks like, once we overcome this novel disease, there is no way to turn around for the biotechnologists. The term Biotechnology basically originated from the Greek word “Bios”, meaning “everything to do with life” and, “Technikos”, meaning “human knowledge and skills”. The main purpose of biotechnology or the work done by a biotechnologist is to produce medicines, drugs, vaccines that cause medicinal benefits for humans by means of using new research ideas, methods.
Biotech has proven its importance as a savior of mankind in this 21st century. It’s about some time, after that the Biotech industry will no longer have to succumb to deficiency of funding, the dearth of the workforce, talents, delays in legal front, etc. Now is the time to rise and shine, live up to the expectations of common people, and help in making the world a better place to live again together.
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