Genome sequencing needs private sector help

Experts have blamed it on the general fund crunch, lack of availability of scientists and lack of trust of private labs which are better equipped in sequencing.
For representational purposes (Express Illustrations)
For representational purposes (Express Illustrations)

BENGALURU: At a time when the SARS-CoV-2 virus has mutated into its Deltaplus variant and the third wave is looming, genome sequencing to detect the variants quicker with more sampling has taken a hit.

Experts have blamed it on the general fund crunch, lack of availability of scientists and lack of trust of private labs which are better equipped in sequencing.

This is happening at a crucial time when public-private efforts should have quickened the pace and expanded the efforts to detect virus variants. A senior virologist, who is also part of INSACOG labs, said,

“Some countries like the UK are sequencing 50-60 per cent of all positive samples, but India is sequencing less than 1 per cent against a target of 5 per cent it set.

"The major problem is that public health labs, like NIMHANS, NCBS (National Centre for Biological Sciences) and IISc (Indian Institute of Science), which are currently with INSACOG, do genome sequencing more for academic knowledge or for research alone. We need quicker sequencing as the virus is mutating. We have seen how the delta variant which was found first in India has created havoc in several countries. We need to catch these mutations fast. That’s why we have to involve private players.”

On the government’s lack of trust in private labs, Prof Vijay Chandru, adjunct professor, IISc, commissioner at Lancet Citizen’s Commission, member of Karnataka’s Genome Sequencing Committee, and also co-founder of Strand Life Sciences, said, “The same thing happened during the onset of Covid when testing was not handed over to private labs. But ultimately they had to do it.”

‘Need to detect warning signs before next wave’

BENGALURU is a hub of bioinformatics and has many private labs which have the expertise to put medical and biological information together and do clinical diagnosis.

Experts believe that SARS-CoV-2 is mutating at a faster pace and identifying variants early is of utmost importance as one variant tends to be replaced by another that is more fierce and resilient.

Prof Chandru said that it is time for us to bring in the bestin- class capabilities from across India to come together to drive better genomic surveillance.

“The public effort driven by Indian SARS-CoV-2 Genomic Consortia (INSACOG) has laid the foundation, but we now need to scale it up to have realtime dashboards to enable early warning signals to manage the next wave. This requires a professional bioinformatics and clinical analytics approach to surveillance that would be best served by a public-private partnership.”

Dr Vishal Rao, Dean, Centre for Academic Research at HCG Cancer Centre, Member of Karnataka Covid Task Force and GS committee, who is also on the advisory board with the Central government, said that soon the Centre will look into roping in some of the major private players.

“We are in touch with Centre for Disease Control’s SARS-CoV-2 Sequencing for Public Health Emergency Response, Epidemiology and Surveillance which is a collaboration of scientists from clinical and health labs, academic institutions and private sector to coordinate sequencing. Aspen Lab at the University of California has done a brilliant dashboard to coordinate on the genome data. We have proposed something similar here,” he said.

Dr Rao said what really matters is the “integration” and “analysis” of data that is being generated. “Finding the variants at the time of diagnosis, rea-time sequencing and flagging the mutant even before an outbreak is the key. A dashboard to put data together and include more labs is need of the hour.”

KSRTC, BMTC resume bus services today

The KSRTC on Sunday said it is planning to operate 3,000 buses initially from Monday, with the State Government permitting bus operations. Similarly, in Bengaluru, the BMTC will run about 2,000 starting Monday. 

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