Indian Institute of Technology Guwahati and RR Animal Healthcare Ltd. have been successful in jointly developing and delivering large quantities of affordable COVID-19 related diagnostic kits. With this initiative, IIT Guwahati has become the first institute in the country to demonstrate an efficient model to develop import-substitute COVID-19 kits from lab-scale to prototype level, field/hospital testing and commercialising thereby saving valuable foreign exchange for the country, timely delivery and customising as per the needs of the user. These kits, being developed presently at the Center of Nanotechnology, IIT Guwahati, are now supplied regularly in large quantities to the National Health Mission, Assam and several hospitals across the country.
The launch of these indigenously developed COVID-19 kits, by Minister of Finance, Health and Family Welfare, Assam Shri Himanta Biswa Sarma, was held on 18 June 2020. These included initially the ICMR approved “SPILD” Viral Transport Media (VTM) Kits. Over the past several months, with the lockdown being implemented across the country and with very less air connectivity, acquiring large quantities of COVID-19 kits became very difficult. To overcome this crisis, the National Health Mission, Assam had approached Prof. T. G. Sitharam, Director, IIT Guwahati, with a request to develop Viral Transport Media (VTM) kits, RNA extraction kits and RT-PCR kits and help the state government in their efforts to overcome this shortage. IIT Guwahati immediately took up this challenge and strategised to develop these kits in-house to meet the growing requirement of these kits during this time of COVID-19 pandemic.
Speaking about the work on these kits, Prof. T.G. Sitharam, Director, IIT Guwahati, said, “IIT Guwahati is at the forefront in the fight against COVID-19 and the Institute has remained fully committed to work with the state government during this difficult situation. The development of high-quality and affordable VTM and other COVID-19 related kits at the Institute was taken upon receiving a request from NHM, Assam and these kits have now been validated by GMCH as well as approved by ICMR”.
More than 2.5 Lakhs VTM kits developed at IIT Guwahati have already been supplied to NHM, Assam. Several testing laboratories across the country have also started procuring these import substitute kits due to their high quality, affordable price and timely delivery schedules. The performance of the indigenously developed RNA extraction kits have also been highly satisfactory as per the Guwahati Medical College and Hospital (GMCH) and the Institute has started supplying these RNA extraction kits in large quantities to the state government. Similarly, the indigenously developed RT-PCR kits are being validated presently and the production, as well as supply, of these kits is likely to commence soon.
These affordable and sterile “SPILD” Viral Transport Media (VTM) kits, RT-PCR kits and RNA isolation kits have been developed at the Center for Nanotechnology, IIT Guwahati, jointly with RR Animal Healthcare Ltd. with inputs from GMCH by the research teams led by Prof. Parameswar Krishnan Iyer, Prof. Siddhartha Sankar Ghosh from IIT Guwahati and Dr. Labanyamoy Kole and Dr. Debashish Dutta of RR Animal Healthcare.
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Speaking about their work, Prof. Parameswar Krishnan Iyer and Prof. Siddhartha Sankar Ghosh, faculty at the Center for Nanotechnology, IIT Guwahati, “As a premier higher education and research institute the efforts of IIT Guwahati in supporting the state government at this time of pandemic by providing various critical technologies related to COVID-19 are utmost important. When the Mission Director, NHM, Assam approached IIT Guwahati to develop these COVID-19 kits, we carefully strategised with RR Animal Healthcare to develop these “SPILD” COVID-19 kits indigenously keeping in mind the quality, affordability and timely delivery which was utmost important. Presently, we have developed the capability to deliver several thousands of these high-quality import substitute kits everyday as and when required and this can be ramped up if needed to meet the requirement of the entire country without depending on imported kits”.
With the indigenous development of these “SPILD” COVID-19 kits from a laboratory level to large scale production and commercialisation capability, IIT Guwahati along with RR Animal Healthcare, who is now based at IIT Guwahati Research Park, has demonstrated that the mission to be self-reliant in healthcare products (Atmanirbhar Bharat Abhiyan) can be achieved if there is clear strategic vision. This is also as per the idea shared by the Hon’ble Prime Minister of India, Shri Narendra Modi, who has been advocating on indigenous manufacturing. As per recent reports, the country has been importing these kits from several countries at exorbitant prices, which can now be replaced with these IIT Guwahati developed kits, thereby saving valuable foreign exchange as well as generating employment in healthcare and spurring allied healthcare product development. Furthermore, IIT Guwahati has also been successful in developing a safer version of the VTM kits, higher efficiency RNA extraction kits which are likely to be launched in the coming days.
Speaking about working together with IIT Guwahati, Dr. Debashis Dutta, Director, RR Animal Healthcare Ltd., said, “The journey of jointly developing the “SPILD” COVID-19 kits with IIT Guwahati has been very satisfactory, and is a major contribution to the nation since these high-quality COVID-19 diagnostic kits are an affordable replacement for all the imported COVID-19 kits by a huge margin. We thank the Director IIT Guwahati to allow us to be part of this exciting project and the invitation to jointly produce them at the Research Park, IIT Guwahati”.
Speaking about the work with the Institute, Dr. Labanyamoy Kole, Head, Research and Development, RR Animal Healthcare Ltd, said, “The entire team at RR Animal Healthcare and IIT Guwahati has been very committed to providing an affordable and high-quality health solution at this time of pandemic and we will keep improving and customising these kits such that their quality remains the best while ensuring the development and timely delivery of these kits so that the nation does not rely anymore on imported products.”
IIT Guwahati has now been manufacturing large quantities of “SPILD” VTM kits, “SPILD” RNA extraction kits and “SPILD” RT-PCR kits jointly with RR Animal Healthcare Ltd. at the Institute, and these kits are indispensable to confirm the presence or absence of COVID-19, which until now were being imported. The Institute is ready to work with Government of India, National Health Missions as well as Hospitals and testing centers across the country for the large scale production and supply of all these kits to meet their immediate requirement.
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