Molecular probes in COVID-19 test
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Molecular probes used in COVID-19 test kits launched by JNCASR spinoff

An offshoot by Jawaharlal Nehru Centre for Advanced Scientific Research (JNCASR) Jawaharlal Nehru Centre for Advanced Scientific Research (JNCASR) an autonomous institute of the Department of Science and Technology, Government of India – VNIR Biotechnologies Private Limited at Bangalore Bio-innovation Centre (BBC) launched indigenous fluorescence probes as well as Polymerase chain reaction (PCR) mix for RT-PCR (Reverse transcription-polymerase chain reaction) detection which are molecular probes used in COVID-19 test kits.

Molecular probes in COVID-19 test
Image Credits: https://vigyanprasar.gov.in/wp-content/uploads/vigyan_samachar_dst_01_10July2020.pdf

Dr. C. N. Ashwath Narayan, Deputy Chief Minister of Karnataka, who attended the product (Molecular probes and PCR mix for RT-PCR) launch at BBC on July 7, 2020, said that this initiative of developing products locally is in line with our Prime minister’s ‘Aatmanirbhar Bharat’ objective. He added that we should take pride that we have actually reached this degree of innovating and producing locally. Additionally, the program was attended by Dr. C. N. Ashwath Narayan, the Deputy Chief Minister of Karnataka, Dr. E. V. Ramana Reddy, Additional Chief Secretary IT/BT, and Dr. Jitendra Kumar, Managing Director, BBC.

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Co-founders of VNIR – Professor T Govindaraju and Dr. Meher Prakash have developed the
PCR mix for RTPCR detection as well as fluorescence probes. In COVID-19 test kits, these molecular probes are utilized. A regular, PCR based test kit has 3 essential elements molecular probes, oligos, and enzymes. Oligos and enzymes are partially imported and partially available in India. While molecular probes utilized in COVID 19 tests are completely imported. The amplification in PCR is tracked by the molecular probes. COVID-19 testing is the immediate application of these molecular probe’s, however, they are general-purpose molecular tools for molecular diagnostic tests of a number of diseases.

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Methods for synthesizing a suite of molecular probes have been innovated by VNIR, which will serve for PCR based COVID-19 screening and the firm will be filing for the protection of its process innovation.

Molecular diagnostic tests used to be restricted for limited applications or to the research labs. COVID-19 has provided a one-of-a-kind problem, that if required, the finest level of the molecular diagnostic test needs to be performed nearly at a full populace level. It is really essential to become self-reliant with the vital test kit components, provided the range of tests needed for COVID-19. Indian manufacturers partially fulfill the requirements of enzyme and oligo, and VNIR aims to address the molecular probes – the third important element.

By recognizing a number of aspects of it – the molecule, the availability of chemicals, its target, and optimizing the yields at each step of the synthesis by a judicious choice of methods – Advancement of the molecular probe is a consequence of synthetic organic chemistry. To produce the molecular probes using novel synthetic methods, the core strengths of VNIR were utilized in the development of the molecular probe.

VNIR also came to a halt shortly with the rest of the world, in March 2020. The opportunity of staying at home was utilized by the VNIR team to contribute to addressing the issue of this ongoing pandemic.

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Professor T Govindaraju said, for us as a start-up, spending on newer R&D, in addition to those ongoing, was incredible. But, we took up the risk as well as the difficulty and we planned the synthesis of these much-required probes for the COVID-19 screening. In accordance with the Make-In-India as well as Aatmanirbhar Bharat missions of the Government of India, VNIR’s R&D effort is meant to add to self-reliance in COVID-19 screening. There is no Indian company manufacturing these molecular probes, to the best of our knowledge.

Prof Ashutosh Sharma, Secretary, DST said that the probes for COVID-19 tests based on RT-PCR are an excellent instance of leveraging our fundamental science knowledge for the development of essential new products that are being imported till now.

He added, this knowledge is not limited to one particular virus, however, would certainly help us swiftly establish the molecular diagnosis for other viruses as well in the future.

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Author: Sruthi S