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President Donald Trump, with Response Coordinator for White House Coronavirus Task Force Deborah Birx (left) and Director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases Anthony Fauci (right), speaks on vaccine development on May 15, 2020, in the Rose Garden of the White House in Washington, DC. (Mandel Ngan/AFP via Getty Images)

Regarding your recent news story, the U.S. has found a just partner in India to jointly work towards developing an effective vaccine for the COVID-19 pandemic. Right after President Trump visited India during February 2020, both countries were motivated to start working on joint research, sharing of best practices, and information to work towards developing a cost-effective vaccine. The trigger for initiating the exchange of ideas and research studies between them in the healthcare sector for urgent action while continuing their active bilateral cooperation agenda of the last 24 months was speeded up after the ‘Howdy Modi’ event in Houston.

Today both the U.S. and India, who in their own rights, consider themselves as key global players in the pharmaceutical production, medical devices supplies, experts in molecular biology and biomedical research have formed a "sort of alliance" to jointly examine and research to find ways to contain the COVID-19 pandemic. Per current statistics, India is the second-largest exporter of pharmaceuticals globally and especially to the United States which in turn is the largest exporter of an array of medical devices including ventilators to India. While both countries did have some sort of trade restrictions in this sector in the past, this is on an even keel after India fulfilled a demand by Trump by exporting a large consignment of hydroxychloroquine tablets to the U.S.

Both countries being champions of "buy America" and "make in India" seem to have relaxed their trade restrictions to a certain extent as they reckon that the need of the hour is a rapid action to curb the global spread of COVID-19. Interestingly, the U.S. and India are getting deeply involved in global discussions on the health and trade implications of the COVID-19 crisis. This has opened doors for a "limited medical deal" on trade in pharmaceuticals and medical devices and supplies as both countries are currently facing hard times due to the COVID-19 pandemic. This ongoing specific cooperation, sharing of best practices, and information will pave the way for expanding their cooperation in other sectors of bilateral relations going forward. Working together on combating the deadly coronavirus, active collaboration is underway in the areas of diagnostics and therapeutics of the disease, which so far has taken the lives of more than 300,000 globally.

India and the United States have had a long-standing productive partnership in the healthcare sector, especially between various research institutions and industries of both countries. The biggest plus point about India is the fact that if successful in developing a vaccine for a COVID-19 cure, then India with its huge pool of English speaking technically qualified personnel, plus large manufacturing capacity across India, will be capable of producing anywhere of at least 4 billion doses of the vaccine.

The India-U.S. Vaccine Action Program is a three-decade-old ongoing collaboration between the U.S. National Institutes of Health, the Indian Department of Biotechnology and the Indian Council of Medical Research along with other partners. Today the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have said that they are willing to separately fund the Government of India $3.6 million to support joint COVID-19 vaccine research and development for prevention purposes. This is a very good development for a mutually beneficial bilateral cooperation.

In this connection, it is welcome news that recently a company in Hyderabad, India, Bharat Biotech, has announced a partnership with the University of Wisconsin-Madison and U.S.-based firm FluGen to make almost 300 million doses of a vaccine for global distribution. The other companies that are actively working in this area are Zydus Cadilla, Biological E, Indian Immunologicals, and Mynvax. Apart from this, five other Indian companies are in the early stages of development and research for a COVID-19 vaccine.

A well-known player, Serum Institute of India, which has the necessary wherewithal and capability and can easily produce 2 billion doses of a vaccine, has started a collaboration with Codagenix, an American biotech company, to develop a "live attenuated" vaccine, among the more than 80 reportedly in development all over the world. A live-attenuated vaccine has multiple advantages, including mounting an immune response to multiple antigens of the virus and the ability to scale for mass production. Today, Codagenix and Serum Institute are pursuing an accelerated development pathway with built-in redundancies to increase speed and likelihood of success.

Elsewhere, the known National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Disease in the U.S. is collaborating with the India-based Translational Health Science Technology Institute for a joint research and vaccine action program.

Close cooperation, data sharing is expected to play a big role in developing and analyzing new therapeutics and testing reagents for the COVID-19. It all shows that the U.S. and India are currently cooperating aggressively and working and researching together to combat the COVID-19 outbreak. This is an outcome of the very recent detailed bilateral Memorandum of Understanding signed in February 2020 that seeks to promote, among others, access to high quality, well tested, safe, effective and affordable medications both for the U.S. and consumers in India. To this end, Indian biotech companies are actively collaborating with research centers, academia, and global virologists to co-develop the vaccine. Once done, pharmaceutical companies in India are experts in the art of accelerating mass-production and cost-effective distribution across the globe.

Ramesh Kumar Nanjundaiya

Sunnyvale, Calif. 

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